Pernicious anemia is a decrease in red blood cells that occurs when your intestines cannot properly absorb vitamin B12.
Pernicious anemia is a type of vitamin B12 anemia. The body needs vitamin B12 to make red blood cells. You get this vitamin from eating foods such as meat, poultry, shellfish, eggs, and dairy products.
A special protein, called intrinsic factor, helps your intestines absorb vitamin B12. This protein is released by cells in the stomach. When the stomach does not make enough intrinsic factor, the intestine cannot properly absorb vitamin B12.
Common causes of pernicious anemia include:
Very rarely, pernicious anemia is passed down through families. This is called congenital pernicious anemia. Babies with this type of anemia do not make enough intrinsic factor or cannot properly absorb vitamin B12 in the small intestine.
In adults, symptoms of pernicious anemia are usually not seen until after age 30. The average age of diagnosis is age 60.
You are more likely to get this disease if you:
Certain diseases can also raise your risk. They include:
For information on other causes of low vitamin B12 levels, see: Anemia - B12 deficiency
Some people do not have symptoms. Symptoms may be mild.
They can include:
If you have low vitamin B12 levels for a long time, you can have nervous system damage. Symptoms can include:
The doctor or nurse will perform a physical exam. Tests that may be done include:
This list is not all-inclusive.
Pernicious anemia may also affect the results of the following tests:
A woman with low B12 levels may have a false positive Pap smear. That's because a vitamin B12 deficiency affects the cells certain cells, called epithelial cells, look.
The goal of treatment is to increase your vitamin B12 levels.
Your doctor or nurse will also recommend eating a well-balanced diet.
Patients usually do well with treatment.
It is important to start treatment early. Nerve damage can be permanent if treatment does not start within 6 months of symptoms.
People with pernicious anemia may have gastric polyps, and are more likely to develop gastric cancer and gastric carcinoid tumors.
Brain and nervous system problems may continue or be permanent if treatment is delayed.
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.
There is no known way to prevent this type of vitamin B12 anemia. However, early detection and treatment can help reduce complications.
Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Palm Beach Cancer Institute, West Palm Beach, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington; David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.