Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia is a low red blood cell count due to a lack of vitamin B12. Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells provide oxygen to body tissues.
Your body needs vitamin B12 to make red blood cells. In order to provide vitamin B12 to your cells:
A lack of vitamin B12 may be due to dietary factors, including:
Certain health conditions can make it difficult for your body to absorb enough vitamin B12. They include:
You may not have symptoms. Symptoms may be mild.
Symptoms can include:
If you have low vitamin B12 levels for a long time, you can have nerve damage. Symptoms of nerve damage include:
The doctor or nurse will perform a physical exam. This may reveal problems with your reflexes.
Tests that may be done include:
This list may not be all-inclusive.
Other procedures that may be done include:
Treatment depends on the cause of B12 deficiency anemia. For treatment of anemia due to a lack of intrinsic factor, see: Pernicious anemia
The goal of treatment is to increase your vitamin B12 levels.
Treatment may no longer be needed after Crohn's disease, celiac disease, or alcoholism is properly treated.
Your doctor or nurse will also recommend eating a well-balanced diet.
With treatment, patients usually do well.
Long-term vitamin B12 deficiency can cause nerve damage. This may be permanent if you do not start treatment within 6 months of when your symptoms begin.
Women with low B12 levels may have a falsely abnormal Pap smear. That is because vitamin B12 affects the way certain cells, called epithelial cells, look.
Call your health care provider if you have any of the symptoms of anemia.
You can prevent anemia caused by a lack of vitamin B12 by following a well-balanced diet.
Shots of vitamin B12 can prevent anemia after surgeries known to cause vitamin B12 deficiency.
Early diagnosis and prompt treatment can reduce or prevent complications related to low vitamin B12 levels.
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.