Vitamin A Deficiency
Vitamin A deficiency happens when your body doesn’t get enough vitamin A. Diet lacking in vitamin A and certain disorders can cause vitamin A deficiency.
In developing countries around the world, many people don’t get enough vitamin A. Infants, children and people who are pregnant or breastfeeding are the most at risk. Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of blindness in children around the world. Every year, between 250,000 children and 500,000 children worldwide become blind because of vitamin A deficiency.
What is Vitamin A?
Vitamin A plays a key role in many systems of your body. Vitamin A is essential for healthy vision, metabolism and cell development. It’s an important factor in keeping your immune system and reproductive system healthy. Your body can’t make vitamin A on its own, so you must get it through the foods you eat.
Vitamin A also keeps your skin and the lining of your lungs, intestines and urinary tract in good shape. Plus, it helps your immune system protect you against infections.
Symptoms of a vitamin A deficiency can differ in severity. Some people may have more serious complications than others. Below are several possible symptoms you may experience:
• Night blindness. This causes you to have trouble seeing in low light. It will eventually lead to complete blindness at night.
• Xerophthalmia. With this condition, the eyes may become very dry and crusted, which may damage the cornea and retina.
• Infection. A person with a vitamin A deficiency can experience more frequent health concerns as they will not be able to fight off infections as easily.
• Bitot spots. This condition is a buildup of keratin in the eyes, causing hazy vision.
• Skin irritation. People experiencing vitamin A deficiency could have problems with their skin, such as dryness, itching, and scaling.
• Keratomalacia. This is an eye disorder involving drying and clouding of the cornea — the clear layer in front of the iris and pupil.
• Keratinisation. This is a process by which cells become filled with keratin protein, die, and form tough, resistant structures in the urinary, gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts.
• Stunted growth. Not having enough vitamin A could delay growth or cause children to experience slow bone growth or stunted growth.
• Fertility. A deficiency in vitamin A may cause challenges when trying to conceive a child, and in some cases, infertility.
Vitamin A deficiency may be caused by prolonged inadequate intake of vitamin A. This is especially so when rice is the main food in your diet (rice doesn’t contain any carotene).
Vitamin A deficiency may also occur when your body is unable to make use of the vitamin A in your diet. This may occur in a variety of illnesses, including:
• Coeliac disease.
• Crohn’s disease.
• Giardiasis – an infection of the gut (bowel).
• Cystic fibrosis.
• Diseases affecting the pancreas.
• Liver cirrhosis.
• Obstruction of the flow of bile from your liver and gallbladder into your gut.
How can I prevent vitamin A deficiency?
The best way to prevent vitamin A deficiency is to eat a healthy diet that includes foods that contain vitamin A. Vitamin A can be found naturally in following –
• Green vegetables, such as leafy greens and broccoli.
• Orange and yellow vegetables, such as carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and squash.
• Orange and yellow fruits, such as oranges, mangos, cantaloupe and papayas.
• Dairy products.
• Liver, beef and chicken, Certain types of fish, such as salmon & Eggs.
• Cereals, rice potatoes, wheat and soybeans fortified with vitamin A.
If necessary, you can also take a vitamin A supplement.
If your doctor suspects you may have vitamin A deficiency then you will need to have blood tests to:
• Confirm whether you do have vitamin A deficiency.
• Check whether you have any other conditions, such as anaemia.
Other investigations will include tests of vision, especially how your vision adapts to the dark.
In children, X-rays of the long bones may be useful to assess bone growth, which may be delayed in vitamin A deficiency
Dietary deficiency of vitamin A is traditionally treated with vitamin A palmitate in oil 60,000 units orally once a day for 2 days, followed by 4500 units orally once a day.
If vomiting or malabsorption is present or xerophthalmia is probable, a dose of 50,000 units for infants < 6 months, 100,000 units for infants 6 to 12 months, or 200,000 units for children > 12 months and adults should be given for 2 days, with a third dose at least 2 weeks later.
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