Vitamin B-12 Deficiency Anemia
What is vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia?
Vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia is a
condition in which your body doesn't have enough healthy red blood cells because of a
lack of vitamin B-12. This vitamin is needed to make red blood cells. These cells carry
oxygen to all parts of your body. Without enough red blood cells, your tissues and
organs don’t get enough oxygen. Without enough oxygen, your body can’t work as well.
Folic acid is also called folate.
It is another B vitamin. Either a lack of vitamin B-12 or a lack of folate causes a type
of anemia called megaloblastic anemia (pernicious anemia). With these types of anemia,
the red blood cells don’t develop normally. They are very large. And they are shaped
like an oval. Healthy red blood cells are round. This causes the bone marrow to make
fewer red blood cells. In some cases, the red blood cells die sooner than normal.
What causes vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia?
Vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia is
more common in people whose families come from northern Europe. It is caused by:
- Lack of intrinsic factor. Intrinsic
factor is a protein made in the stomach. It is needed to absorb vitamin B-12. This
type of B-12deficiency anemia is called
- Inability to absorb vitamin B-12. Surgery that removes or bypasses the end of the small intestine may be one
reason that B-12 can't be absorbed. Other causes include changes in the small bowel
that limit how much vitamin B-12 you can absorb.
The inability to make intrinsic
factor may be caused by several things, such as:
- Chronic gastritis
- Surgery to remove all or part of the
- An autoimmune condition, where the
body attacks its own tissues
Other types of megaloblastic anemia
may be linked to type 1 diabetes, thyroid disease, and a family history of the
Who is at risk for vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia?
Risk factors for vitamin B-12
deficiency anemia include:
- A family history of the disease
- Having part or all of your stomach or
- Autoimmune diseases, including type 1
- Crohn's disease
- Some medicines
- Strict vegetarian diets
- Being an older adult
What are the symptoms of vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia?
Each person’s symptoms may vary.
Symptoms may include:
- Weak muscles
- Numb or tingling feeling in hands and
- Trouble walking
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
- Lack of energy or tiring easily
- Smooth and tender tongue
- Fast heart rate
The symptoms of vitamin B-12 anemia may look like other blood conditions or
health problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia diagnosed?
This type of anemia is usually
found during a health exam through a routine blood test. Your healthcare provider will
take your health history and give you a physical exam.
You may also need other blood
tests. You may also have other assessment procedures, such as a bone marrow biopsy.
How is vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia treated?
Vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia and folate deficiency anemia often
occur together and can be hard to tell apart. Treatment may include vitamin B-12 shots (injections) or folic acid pills.
Foods that are rich in folic acid
- Orange juice
- Romaine lettuce
- Wheat germ
- Soy beans
- Leafy gr vegetables
- Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
Foods that are rich in both folic
acid and vitamin B-12 include:
- Fortified cereals
Taking folic acid by mouth works
better than eating foods rich in folic acid. Vitamin B-12 is not as well absorbed by
mouth as by injection.
Living with vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia
Depending on the cause of your
vitamin B-12 deficiency, you may need to take vitamin
B-12 supplements for the rest of your life. These
may be pills or shots. This may seem difficult. But it will let you live a normal life
If your deficiency is from a
restrictive diet, you may want to work with a nutritionist. He or she can help ensure
that you get enough vitamin B-12 and other vitamins. Tell your healthcare provider about
any symptoms and follow your treatment plan.
Key points about vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia
- With this condition, your body does
not have enough healthy red blood cells because of a lack (deficiency) of vitamin
- It is one of several types of
- Without enough red blood cells, your
tissues and organs don’t get enough oxygen. Without enough oxygen, your body can’t
work as well.
- Symptoms include weak muscles,
numbness, trouble walking, nausea, weight loss, irritability, fatigue, and increased
- Treatment may include vitamin B-12 supplements. It is also important to eat a
Tips to help you get the most from
a visit to your healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for your visit and
what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down
questions you want answered.
- Bring someone with you to help you ask
questions and remember what your provider tells you.
- At the visit, write down the name of a
new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new
instructions your provider gives you.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment
is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your condition can be treated
in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is
recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if you do not take
the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If you have a follow-up appointment,
write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your provider
if you have questions.
Online Medical Reviewer:
L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer:
Richard LoCicero MD
Date Last Reviewed:
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