Anemia - B12 deficiency

Definition

Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells provide oxygen to body tissues. There are many types of anemia.

Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia is a low red blood cell count due to a lack of vitamin B12.

Causes

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:

Symptoms

You may not have symptoms. Symptoms may be mild.

Symptoms can include:

If you have low vitamin B12 level for a long time, you can have nerve damage. Symptoms of nerve damage include:

Exams and Tests

The doctor or nurse will perform a physical exam. This may reveal problems with your reflexes.

Tests that may be done include:

Other procedures that may be done include:

Treatment

Treatment depends on the cause of B12 deficiency anemia.

The goal of treatment is to increase your vitamin B12 level.

Treatment may no longer be needed after Crohn disease, celiac disease, or alcoholism is properly treated.

Your doctor or nurse will also recommend eating a well-balanced diet.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Patients often do well with treatment.

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.

Possible Complications

A woman with a low B12 level may have a false positive Pap smear. This is because vitamin B12 deficiency affects the way certain cells (epithelial cells) in the cervix look.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you have any of the symptoms of anemia.

Prevention

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 a low vitamin B12 level.


Review Date: 2/24/2014
Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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