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Megaloblastic anemia is a type of anemia characterized by very large red blood cells. In addition to the cells being large, the inner contents of each cell are not completely developed. This malformation causes the bone marrow to produce fewer cells, and sometimes the cells die earlier than the 120-day life expectancy. Instead of being round or disc-shaped, the red blood cells can be oval.
Megaloblastic anemia is more common in individuals of northern European descent. While there are several types of megaloblastic anemia, the condition is caused by one of the following:
The type of anemia in which a lack of intrinsic factor occurs is called pernicious anemia. The inability to make intrinsic factor may be the result of several factors, such as chronic gastritis, gastrectomy (removal of all or part of the stomach), or an autoimmune condition (the body attacks its own tissues). Other types of megaloblastic anemia may be associated with type 1 diabetes, thyroid disease, and a family history of the disease.
The following are the most common symptoms for megaloblastic anemia. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
The symptoms of megaloblastic anemia may resemble other blood conditions or medical problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
Megaloblastic anemia is usually discovered during a medical examination through a routine blood test. In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for megaloblastic anemia may include additional blood tests and other evaluation procedures, including the Schilling test.
The Schilling test is performed to detect vitamin B12 absorption. In the Schilling test, vitamin B12 levels are measured in the urine after the ingestion of radioactive vitamin B12. With normal absorption, the ileum (portion of the small intestine) absorbs more vitamin B12 than the body needs and excretes the excess into the urine. With impaired absorption, however, little or no vitamin B12 is excreted into the urine.
Specific treatment for megaloblastic anemia will be determined by your physician based on:
Treatment may include vitamin B12 injections. Foods that are rich in folic acid include the following:
Foods that are rich in folic acid and vitamin B12include the following: