vitamin a

Vitamin A Deficiency

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General Information

DEFINITION – Insufficient intake or absorption of vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin. This deficiency is rare in the U.S. and is usually due to failure of the intestine to absorb enough of the vitamin. Synthetic vitamin A compounds (retinoids) are being used for some skin conditions such as acne.

BODY PARTS INVOLVED – Total body tissues.

SEX OR AGE MOST AFFECTED – Both sexes; all ages.


  • Poor night vision.
  • Dry, inflamed eyes.
  • Rough skin.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Decreased taste and smell.
  • Poor wound healing.
  • Anemia.
  • Lowered resistance to infection.
  • Growth retardation in children.
  • Severe deficiency can cause weak bones and teeth, corneal ulcers and corneal damage that can lead to blindness.


  • Insufficient dietary intake of vitamin A.
  • Poor absorption of vitamin A.


  • Cystic fibrosis.
  • Celiac disease; sprue.
  • Operations on the pancreas.
  • Cirrhosis of the liver.
  • Bile duct obstruction.
  • Use of certain lipid-lowering drugs.
  • Dietary deficiency (common in some developing countries) occurs only in people who have an exceptionally poor diet.
  • Alcoholism; intravenous drug abuse.
  • Fad diets.


  • Proper nutrition.
  • Vitamin supplements if needed.

What To Expect


  • Your own observation of symptoms.
  • Medical history and physical exam by a doctor.
  • Laboratory blood studies of vitamin A levels and other medical tests to determine any underlying disorder or other cause for the symptoms.


  • Self-care after diagnosis.
  • Doctor’s treatment.

POSSIBLE COMPLICATIONS – If untreated, eye problems including blindness, infections and death.

PROBABLE OUTCOME – Usually curable with an adequate diet, vitamin A supplements, and treatment for any underlying disease.

How To Treat

GENERAL MEASURES – Avoid alcohol. If you need help with stopping, ask your doctor, or contact Alcoholics Anonymous.

MEDICATION – Your doctor may prescribe vitamin A tablets or injections.

ACTIVITY – Don’t drive at night if you have night vision problems.

DIET – Increase your intake of foods rich in vitamin A – even if you take vitamin A supplements. Dietary sources include: liver, fish-lever oils, egg yolk, milk and dairy products, margarine, dark green vegetables and yellow vegetable and fruits.

Call Your Doctor If

  • You or your child have symptoms of vitamin A deficiency.
  • Symptoms don’t improve in 1 month, despite treatment.

From the Complete Guide to Symptoms, Illness & Surgery by H. Winter Griffith, M.D. © 1995 The Putnam Berkley Group, Inc.; electronic rights by Medical Data Exchange.

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