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The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about each of the medications listed below. Only the most general side effects are included, so ask your doctor if you need to take any special precautions. Use each of these medications as recommended by your doctor, or according to the instructions provided. If you have further questions about usage or side effects, contact your doctor.

Prescription Medications

  • Vitamin B 12 injections
  • Folic acid (one milligram)

Over-the-Counter Medications

  • Iron
  • Folic acid (less than one milligram)
Prescription Medications
Vitamin B 12 Injections

Vitamin B 12 is necessary for red blood cell production and for the health of the nervous system. Because significant deficiencies are usually due to the inability of the intestines to absorb the vitamin from usual food sources, injecting it is a reliable way to get enough into the system. It is initially given daily for several days, then at increasing intervals, and finally monthly for as long as it is needed, which may be a lifetime. B 12 is also effective when given by mouth, but this requires taking medication every day.

Folic Acid (one milligram)

Many people are given folic acid to correct or prevent anemias. Folic acid at this high of a dosage is available only by prescription because it may cause serious neurologic damage if inadvertently given to someone whose anemia is due to vitamin B 12 deficiency rather than a folic acid deficiency. Only careful medical evaluation can determine if it is safe to give folic acid to people whose anemia might be due to deficiencies of either B 12 or folic acid.

Over-the-Counter Medications
Iron Pills

Many American women are considered iron deficient. An iron supplement can help meet a temporary need for more iron during pregnancy, heavy menstruation, or breast-feeding. Iron pills are usually taken until the hemoglobin returns to normal and the body has stored a supply of iron. Iron pills can cause side effects, such as nausea, constipation, and black stools.

Folic Acid (less than one milligram)

Small doses of folic acid are available without a prescription along with other vitamins and dietary supplements. Although they may lead to severe neurologic damage in people with undiagnosed vitamin B 12 deficiency, folic acid supplements are otherwise considered safe enough to be available without prescription. Iron-containing supplements should be kept out of reach of all young children, especially those younger than six years, because accidental iron ingestion and overdose can cause life-threatening health problems.

When to Contact Your Doctor

Once your anemia has been identified, follow your doctor's instructions for follow-up visits and ongoing treatment. If you are of Northern European ancestry or have a family history of hemochromatosis, you might ask to be screened for this condition before taking iron supplements. Hemochromatosis is a genetic disorder that causes a build-up of iron in the blood.

Special Considerations

Whenever you are taking a prescription medication, take the following precautions:

  • Take them as directed—not more, not less, not at a different time.
  • Do not stop taking them without consulting your doctor.
  • Don’t share them with anyone else.
  • Know what effects and side effects to expect, and report them to your doctor.
  • If you are taking more than one drug, even if it is over-the-counter, be sure to check with a physician or pharmacist about drug interactions.
  • Plan ahead for refills so you don’t run out.

References:

Drug Facts and Comparisons. 60th ed. Facts and Comparisons; 2006.

Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 16th ed. McGraw-Hill; 2004.

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov.



Last reviewed September 2013 by Marcin Chwistek, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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