Modern clinical testing strategies in cobalamin and folate deficiency

Semin Hematol. 1999 Jan;36(1):35-46.


Folate or cobalamin deficiencies are usually detected by hematologic abnormalities, such as a macrocytic megaloblastic anemia, or often milder signs, such as hypersegmented neutrophils. In fact, these vitamin deficiencies may be associated with clinical conditions in which anemia and/or macrocytosis are absent, such as neuropsychiatric disorders and inborn errors of folate or cobalamin metabolism. A battery of sensitive tests, including blood vitamin levels, serum methylmaIonic acid and homocysteine assays, and the deoxyuridine suppression test in the bone marrow, allows for early detection of vitamin deficiency. Additional tests may be included to identify the causes of deficiency, such as the Schilling test using crystalline cyanocobalamin, or a modified Schilling test for showing food cobalamin malabsorption. Strategies for diagnosing a vitamin deficiency differ according to the hematologic and clinical presentations. The deleterious effects (aside from anemia) that arise from cobalamin or folate deficiency and include neurological complications, increased risk of vascular disease due to hyperhomocysteinemia, and increased risk of some types of cancer related to folate deficiency, underscore the importance of making an early diagnosis and instituting treatment with the appropriate vitamin in preventing permanent damage.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Deoxyuridine
  • Folic Acid / blood
  • Folic Acid Deficiency / diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Vitamin B 12 / blood
  • Vitamin B 12 Deficiency / diagnosis*


  • Folic Acid
  • Vitamin B 12
  • Deoxyuridine