What is megaloblastic anemia?

Megaloblastic anemia is a blood disorder in which there is anemia with larger-than-normal red blood cells. Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells to provide oxygen to tissues.

In megaloblastic anemia, the body’s ability to produce red blood cells is affected by a vitamin B-12 or folate deficiency, often caused by the body’s inability to absorb or process these vitamins.

What are the symptoms of megaloblastic anemia?

Symptoms include diarrhea or constipation; fatigue, lack of energy, or light-headedness when standing up or with exertion; loss of appetite; pale skin; problems concentrating, mostly during exercise; swollen, red tongue or bleeding gums.

Sometimes nerve damage caused by vitamin B12 deficiency can include: confusion or change in mental status (dementia) in severe cases; depression; loss of balance; numbness and tingling of hands and feet.

How is megaloblastic anemia diagnosed?

Certain blood tests identify megaloblastic anemia like a complete blood count (CBC) and a test for B12 and folate levels. Sometimes an esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) exam is needed to look at the stomach or small intestine.

How is megaloblastic anemia treated?

Treatment depends on the cause of the vitamin deficiency. Pernicious anemia requires lifelong vitamin B12 replacement, most often using injections. Some patients can get enough supplementation with high-dose tablets of oral vitamin B12.

People with anemia due to a lack of dietary vitamin B12 may be told to take vitamin supplements and follow a more balanced diet. Treatment may start with vitamin B12 injections.

Anemia caused by poor digestion and absorption is treated with vitamin B12 injections until the condition improves. These shots are given every day and then every week at first, and then every month.

Many people may need these shots once a month for the rest of their life. The shots may no longer be needed after Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or alcoholism is properly treated.

About treatment for megaloblastic anemia at Children’s

Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders program achieves outcomes that rank among the top national programs and cares for more than two-thirds of Minnesota children and adolescents with blood disorders. In the program, families coping with anemia have access to the newest and most promising treatments and receive care spearheaded and coordinated by a board-certified hematologist/oncologist.

With megaloblastic anemia, most children respond to a combination of treatments including medication and lifestyle adjustments. Our professionals will track your child’s recovery in an effort to stay well ahead of any possible complications.

Contact us

If you are a family member looking for a Children’s hematologist or oncologist or wanting to schedule an appointment, call the outpatient clinic at Children’s – Minneapolis at 612-813-5940.

If you are a health professional looking for consultation or referral information, please call Children’s Physician Access at 1-866-755-2121 (toll-free).