B12 Deficiency/pernicious Anemia

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This is a type of anemia that is megaloblastic in nature.  It is a blood disorder in which red blood cells are declining in the body.  This decrease in red blood cells leads to an inability of the gastrointestinal tract to absorb B12, which is a very important vitamin that is essential for the growth of red blood cells.  Pernicious anemia is an autoimmune form of malady in which the body begins attacking itself with no indefinite explanation.  Specifically, the body’s own cells begin to attack the intrinsic factor, which is an enzyme produced in the stomach that is needed in order to be able to absorb B12.  Without B12, you would not be able to live, but fortunately, the liver stores enough B12 to keep you alive for 2 years’ time while the physicians are trying to figure out the cause of your symptoms as pernicious anemia is a slow moving disease.

As the B12 level decreases, many individuals often start to feel extreme symptoms of exhaustion as if they have no energy in which to do anything at all.  You may feel weakness in the legs and arms, and the neck.  The fatigue can become severely overwhelming the lower the B12 level goes.  Other complaints and symptoms might also include a feeling of lightheadedness and unsteadiness with gait, failure to thrive, and bleeding gums.  Problems with concentration may begin to surface as well.  The longer you have a low B12 level, the more it puts you at risk for neurologic complications such as damage to the nerves, which would be irreversible if treatment of the B12 deficiency is not begun within 6 months’ time.  There may also be numb or tingly sensations in the toes and fingers.  

Once the physicians are finally able to make the diagnosis of pernicious anemia, treatment will often begin with B12 injections.  These B12 injections will need to be started on either a weekly or a monthly basis to get the B12 level back to a more acceptable range.  Once the B21 level is stabilized, there are other treatments that can be used as a maintenance type of treatment for the disorder.  Some individuals may be able to take very high doses of B12 in a tablet form.  Another newer option would be a prescription treatment taken nasally. 

It used to be that pernicious anemia had a very grave outlook at one time, but today we have plenty of treatment options available to us thanks to advancements in medicine.


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