The first signs of vitamin b12 deficiency usually show up via the nervous system so if you start experiencing any signs such as: a numbness or a loss of touch, unable to feel vibration, a degree of color blindness, a tingling or pins and needles in the hands or feet, a feeling of weakness to the muscles, any trouble in coordination of movement i.e. walking or picking things up etc. Or any kind of memory loss, confusion, lack of concentration or you are feeling irritable or depressed, then it is possible you are suffering from vitamin b12 deficiency and you will need to visit your doctor.
Vitamin b12 (cobalamin), with folic acid is the essential ingredient for the ability of red blood cells to mature, for the synthesis of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), which is the genetic material of cells, and it is also necessary for the facilitation of normal nerve function. The body will store the majority of its vitamin B12 in the liver but it will become exhausted after 5 years at the maximum if not replenished.
The main cause of vitamin B12 deficiency is due to a lack of absorption. A common cause is what is known as a lack of intrinsic factor, which is a protein that is produced in the stomach. Without the combination of this factor, the vitamin will remain in the small intestine and then be merely excreted out. A reason why this factor is not present could be perhaps that the stomach cells that produce intrinsic factor are being destroyed by abnormal antibodies or perhaps part of the stomach has been removed due to surgery.
Other reasons why absorption may become a problem: As you get older you may find that you have less stomach acid being produced, this means that the body may have difficulty in removing protein from meat. Any abnormal bacterial growth in the small intestine or conditions that affect the absorption of nutrients in the intestine could be a problem. Fish tapeworm infection could also affect it. Any liver disorders could affect the amount of B12 stored in the body and a strict vegetarian diet will also cause this deficiency. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal based products, thus any infants who are breastfed by a mother who follows a strict vegan diet will also be at risk.
One of the main complications of B12 deficiency is the development of pernicious anaemia. This is a result of an autoimmune reaction which has destroyed the stomach cells producing intrinsic factor.
The first symptoms you may experience if you are suffering from this will be an unusual tiredness and an awareness of the heart palpitating. It is fairly common to get short of breath and fainting is quite common. If the condition has become severe then in can affect the heart, resulting in angina. The sufferer may have headaches and intermittent pains in the legs. Another common symptom is a red, sore, tongue and mouth and an unexplained loss of weight. Diarrhea may also be present.
To verify whether you are vitamin B12 deficient a blood sample will need to be taken and sent off for analysis. If you are lacking in B12 the blood test will show that your red blood cells will be of a normal color but a lot larger than normal. If your test does show a low count then the Shilling test will measure how much B12 is absorbed from the bowel. This will help show if the problem is anemia or has another cause. The blood tests will also show whether you have antibodies to intrinsic factor.
The treatment for vitamin B12 deficiency is very simple. If the patient is suffering from anemia then the treatment will usually be injections of vitamin B12 which will be administered every 1 3 months depending of the severity of the condition. If the anemia is particularly severe then a blood transfusion may be given.
If the cause can be linked to a result of diet then a simple supplement of vitamin B12 will be advised or if the problem is not severe then a change in diet will be discussed with the patient.
To avoid complications of deficiency, people are advised to eat a good diet which includes liver, fish and eggs. Vegans are advised to take the vitamin B12 supplements. Anybody who has or has had pernicious anemia should be observed for any future complications and anyone who has had any type of surgery in their stomach or small intestine should keep an eye out for any of the above symptoms being exhibited.
If you suspect that you or a member of your family is suffering from this deficiency then it is very important to get advice from your doctor. An older person suffering from this condition who is left for any length of time run the risk of experiencing complications leading to delirium, paranoia and a possibility of dementia.