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Pernicious Anemia and Vitamin B-12 Deficiency

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Pernicious anemia facts

  • Pernicious anemia is a condition caused by too little vitamin B12 in the body. It is a form of vitamin B12 deficiency anemia.
  • Vitamin B12 helps the body make healthy red blood cells and helps keep nerve cells healthy. It is found in animal foods, including meat, fish, eggs, milk, and other dairy products.
  • The most common cause of pernicious anemia is the loss of stomach cells that make intrinsic factor. Intrinsic factor helps the body absorb vitamin B12 in the intestine. The loss of parietal cells may be due to destruction by the body's own immune system.
  • Pernicious anemia can cause permanent damage to nerves and other organs if it goes on for a long time without being treated. It also raises the risk for developing stomach cancer.
  • Common signs and symptoms of pernicious anemia are:
    • Feeling tired and weak
    • Tingling and numbness in hands and feet
    • A bright red, smooth tongue
  • Pernicious anemia is diagnosed using family history and medical history, a physical exam, and diagnostic tests and procedures.
  • Pernicious anemia is easy to treat with vitamin B12 pills or shots as well as diet changes. Life-long treatment is needed.
  • Complications caused by untreated pernicious anemia may be reversible with treatment.
  • Doctors don't know how to prevent pernicious anemia that is caused by the immune system destroying stomach cells.
  • Eating foods high in vitamin B12 and folic acid can help prevent vitamin B12 deficiency caused by a poor diet.

What is pernicious anemia?

Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have a sufficient number of red blood cells or hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is present within red blood cells and is important for carrying oxygen to all tissues of the body. In males, anemia is typically defined as hemoglobin level of less than 13.5 gram/100ml, while in women, a hemoglobin level of less than 12.0 gram/100ml is considered to be indicative of anemia. These definitions may vary slightly depending on the source and the laboratory reference used. Pernicious is a term that means destructive, injurious or deadly.

Anemia can result from disruptions in the production of red blood cells or hemoglobin as well as from an increased destruction of red blood cells or loss of blood.

Pernicious anemia is a disease where large, immature, nucleated cells (megaloblasts, which are forerunners of red blood cells) circulate in the blood, and do not function as blood cells; it is a disease caused by impaired uptake of vitamin B-12 due to the lack of intrinsic factor (IF) in the gastric mucosa. It was termed "pernicious" because before it was learned that vitamin B-12 could treat the anemia, most people that developed the disease died from it.

Pernicious anemia is due to an inability to absorb vitamin B-12 (also known as cobalamin or Cbl) from the gastrointestinal tract. Humans get vitamin B-12 from animal products; both meat and dairy products are dietary sources of vitamin B-12. The body is able to store vitamin B-12 for a long time, so inadequate dietary intake must persist for years before a true deficiency of vitamin B-12 is reached. Because of this, the symptoms of pernicious anemia usually do not appear for years. While pernicious anemia is most commonly diagnosed in adults with an average age of 60, a rare, congenital (inborn) type of pernicious anemia has been described.

As with other causes of anemia, symptoms related to decreased oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood can include tiredness and shortness of breath. Vitamin B-12 deficiency also interferes with the function of the nervous system, and symptoms due to nervous system damage may be apparent even before the anemia is discovered.

Pernicious anemia is most common in Caucasian persons of northern European ancestry than in other racial groups. Pernicious anemia is also termed Biermer's or Addison's anemia.

Picture of normal red blood cells
Picture of normal red blood cells
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/4/2013

Patient Comments

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Pernicious Anemia - Symptoms Question: The symptoms of pernicious anemia can vary greatly from patient to patient. What were your symptoms at the onset of your disease?
Pernicious Anemia - Treatments Question: What was the effective treatment for you pernicious anemia?
Pernicious Anemia - Share Your Experience Question: What was the cause of your megaloblastic (pernicious) anemia? Please share your experience.
Pernicious Anemia - Causes Question: Was there an underlying condition that caused your pernicious anemia?
Source: MedicineNet.com
http://www.medicinenet.com/pernicious_anemia/article.htm

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