Vitamin B12 Deficiency Symptoms

What is vitamin B12 deficiency?

Vitamin B12 deficiency is a condition in which the body has inadequate stores of vitamin B12. This vitamin is essential for many aspects of health, including the production of red blood cells. Healthy numbers of red blood cells are critical for delivering oxygen and nutrients to the body’s cells and tissues.

Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that must be ingested daily and absorbed effectively by the digestive tract in order to maintain optimal health. Most people get enough vitamin B12 by eating a variety of foods. Those that naturally contain vitamin B12 include lean red meats, poultry, fish, brewer’s yeast, and dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. Vitamin B12 is also added to some breakfast cereals, breads, and other fortified food products.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is most common in people who have a disease or condition in which the body is unable to absorb vitamin B12 from ingested foods. It is also relatively common in older adults. One in 31 adults age 51 years and older has a vitamin B12 deficiency, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .

Less commonly, vitamin B12 deficiency results from an inadequate intake of foods that contain vitamin B12.

Untreated vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to serious complications, such as anemia, nerve damage, and growth abnormalities. Seeking regular medical care and following your treatment plan can help reduce the risk of serious complications from vitamin B12 deficiency.

What are the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency?

The symptoms vary depending on the individual, the underlying cause, the severity of B12 deficiency, and other factors. In some cases, the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency can be vague, take years to develop, or may not be noticeable immediately.

Some symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are due to a decreased production of red blood cells, which are necessary to carry vital oxygen to the body’s cells and tissues. Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency can affect the gastrointestinal tract, the nervous system, and the cardiovascular system. Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include:

  • Chest pain or heart palpitations

  • Confusion, memory loss, or dementia

  • Constipation

  • Depression

  • Developmental delays and failure to thrive

  • Dizziness, trouble maintaining balance, and fainting

  • Fatigue or weakness

  • Numbness or coldness of hands and feet

  • Pale skin or jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)

  • Poor appetite

  • Shortness of breath

  • Sore mouth and tongue

  • Weight loss

What causes vitamin B12 deficiency?

Vitamin B12 deficiency is most often caused by an inability of the body to properly digest and absorb vitamin B12. The inability to absorb vitamin B12 can be caused by diseases and conditions including:

  • Atrophic gastritis (a condition in which the stomach lining is inflamed and becomes thin)

  • Celiac disease (sensitivity to gluten from wheat and other grains, causing intestinal damage)

  • Crohn’s disease (an inflammatory bowel disease that can affect any part of the intestine)

  • Pernicious anemia (a result of atrophic gastritis with poor B12 absorption)

  • Surgical removal of a portion of the stomach or small intestine, such as with bariatric surgery

In addition, some medications that treat diabetes, acid reflux, and peptic ulcers, for example, can affect how well your body can absorb vitamin B12.

Less commonly, vitamin B12 deficiency can occur as a result of not eating enough foods that contain vitamin B12. Foods that contain vitamin B12 include lean red meats, poultry, fish, brewer’s yeast, and dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt.

What are the risk factors for vitamin B12 deficiency?

A number of factors are thought to increase your chances of developing vitamin B12 deficiency:

  • Atrophic gastritis

  • Being an older adult

  • Celiac disease

  • Crohn’s disease

  • Following a strict vegan or vegetarian diet

  • Intestinal bacterial or tapeworm infestation

  • Pernicious anemia

  • Surgical removal of a portion of the small intestine

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