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.
Vitamin B12 or B9 (commonly called folate) deficiency anaemia occurs when a lack of vitamin B12 or folate causes the body to produce abnormally large red blood cells that cannot function properly.
Red blood cells carry oxygen around the body using a substance called haemoglobin.
Anaemia is the general term for having either fewer red blood cells than normal or having an abnormally low amount of haemoglobin in each red blood cell.
There are several different types of anaemia and each one has a different cause.
For example, iron deficiency anaemia happens when the body does not contain enough iron.
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 pernicious anemia.
- 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 stomach (gastrectomy)
- 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 disease.
What is the recommended daily amount of vitamin B12?
The amount of vitamin B12 you need depends on your age.
|Age (years)||Daily amount of B12 (micrograms)|
|14 and older||2.4 mcg|
|Pregnant women||2.6 mcg|
|Breast–feeding women||2.8 mcg|
What foods contain B12?
Vitamin B12 is found in foods from animals, such as meat, seafood, milk products, poultry, and eggs. It is not in foods from plants unless it has been added to the food (fortified). Some foods, like cereals, are fortified with vitamin B12.
Supplements containing only B12, or B12 along with other B vitamins and/or folate, are readily available. Also, B12 is usually in multivitamins. Check the label to find out how much B12 is in a supplement.
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 intestine removed
- Autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes
- 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 feet
- Trouble walking
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
- Lack of energy or tiring easily (fatigue)
- 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 include:
- 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.
Complications of vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia
Although it’s uncommon, vitamin B12 or folate deficiency (with or without anaemia) can lead to complications, particularly if you have been deficient in vitamin B12 or folate for some time.
Potential complications can include:
- problems with the nervous system
- temporary infertility
- heart conditions
- pregnancy complications and birth defects
Adults with severe anaemia are also at risk of developing heart failure.
Some complications improve with appropriate treatment, but others, such as problems with the nervous system, can be permanent.
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 without symptoms.
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 B
- It is one of several types of megaloblastic anemia.
- 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 heart rate.
- Treatment may include vitamin B-12 supplements. It is also important to eat a well-balanced diet.
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.