What are the symptoms?
If your vitamin B12
deficiency is mild, you may not have symptoms or you may not notice them. Some
people may think they are just the result of growing older. As the anemia gets
worse, you may:
- Feel weak, tired, and lightheaded.
- Have pale skin.
- Have a sore, red tongue or bleeding
- Feel sick to your stomach and lose weight.
Have diarrhea or constipation.
If the level of vitamin B12 stays low for a long time, it
can damage your nerve cells. If this happens, you may have:
- Numbness or tingling in your fingers and
- A poor sense of balance.
- Dementia, a loss of mental abilities.
How is vitamin B12 deficiency anemia diagnosed?
Your doctor will examine you and ask questions about your past health and
how you are feeling now. You will also have blood tests to check the number of
red blood cells and to see if your body has enough vitamin B12.
The level of
folic acid, another B vitamin, will be checked too.
Some people whose vitamin B12 levels are too low also have low levels of folic
acid. The two problems can cause similar symptoms. But they are treated differently.
How is it treated?
Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia is treated with
supplements of vitamin B12. Taking supplements brings your level of vitamin B12 back to normal, so you do not have symptoms. To keep your level of vitamin B12 normal, you will probably need to take
supplements for the rest of your life. If you stop taking them, you'll get anemia again.
Your vitamin B12 supplements might be pills or shots. If you use shots, you can learn to give
them to yourself at home. For
many people, pills work just as well as shots. They also cost less and are
easier to take. If you have been getting shots, ask your doctor if you can
switch to pills. Another form of treatment is a vitamin B12 nasal spray (such as Nascobal).
You can take steps at home to improve your health
by eating a varied diet that includes meat, milk, cheese, and eggs, which are
good sources of vitamin B12. Also, eat plenty of foods that contain
folic acid, another type of B vitamin. These include
leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, and fortified breads and cereals.
Can vitamin B12 deficiency anemia be prevented?
Most people can prevent this anemia by including animal products like
milk, cheese, and eggs in their diets. People who follow a vegan diet can
prevent it by taking a daily vitamin pill or by eating foods that have been
fortified with B12.
Babies born to women who eat a vegan diet
should be checked by a doctor to see whether they need extra vitamin
If you have a high risk of getting this type of anemia, your doctor can give you vitamin B12 shots or pills to prevent it.