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Vitamin B12 Deficiency Anemia

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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 gums.
  • 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 toes.
  • A poor sense of balance.
  • Depression.
  • 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 B12.

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.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: December 10, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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