Feeling tired, weak or sluggish? Losing your balance, have an unsteady gait or experiencing numb tingling feet and hands? Seem to get winded quicker than you use to? Blaming your age for these subtle changes? Just maybe pernicious anemia is the real culprit for your pronounced neurological downfall.
Pernicious anemia, aka vitamin B12 deficiency anemia, is a type of anemia that gradually causes neurological problems and a marked reduction of red blood cell. And the lack of intrinsic factor production, a protein catalyst in your stomach for vitamin B12 absorption, is the most common cause.
This scenario frequently happens when the intrinsic factor making stomach cells are destroyed by your own immune system. There is also a rare inherited disorder in which you are born without the ability to produce intrinsic factor.
Other means for vitamin B12 deficiency development occur from:
- metabolic disorders
- intestinal infections ~ parasites, bacterial overgrowth
- gastric atrophy causing decline in stomach acid output ~ older adults
- not enough dietary vitamin B12 ~ strict vegetarian, pregnancy, poor diet due to aging, alcoholism
- certain intestinal disorders interfering with absorption of vitamin B12 ~ Crohn’s disease, celiac disease
Long term use of some medications may put you at risk for pernicious anemia, such as
- colchicine ~ gout
- stomach acid reduction drugs
- para amino salicylic acid ~ tuberculosis
- metformin, phenformin, biguanides ~ diabetes
You are also in peril for developing vitamin B12 deficiency if you are suffering from the following autoimmune endocrine disorders:
- Graves disease
- type 1 diabetes
- chronic thyroiditis
- myasthenia gravis
- Addison’s disease
- testicular dysfunction
- secondary amenorrhea
Pernicious anemia red blood cell and neurological caused symptoms often develop slowly and may include:
- weight loss
- mouth sores
- gas, heartburn
- heart murmurs
- bleeding gums
- loss of balance
- rapid heart rate
- low grade fever
- loss of appetite
- difficulty walking
- sense of fullness
- nausea & vomiting
- shortness of breath
- pale, yellowish skin
- unsteady movement, gait
- false positive pap smears
- bright red, smooth tongue
- dizziness when standing up
- vision, taste, smell changes
- tingling, numbness in hands, feet
- memory loss, confusion, even psychosis
- change in bowel habits ~ diarrhea, constipation
Many of these symptoms sound like those complaints coming from your aging parent or grandparent? Likely because pernicious anemia is especially common in older adults.
If a vitamin B12 deficiency is left untreated, heart failure can develop. Pernicious anemia sufferers also have a higher incidence for developing:
Any changes occurring in your stomach puts you at risk for stomach cancer, therefore your health care provider may order periodic cancer tests.
Fortunately, pernicious anemia is easily treated with vitamin shots or pills. The good news attached to all this perniciousness is that treatment outcomes are usually excellent.
Vitamin B12 shots may be given daily or weekly at first, then reduced to monthly. Some can be treated successfully with vitamin B12 pills, often working just as well as the shots. However, high doses might be required because of your body’s decreased absorption capability.
In addition, vitamin B12 can be administered through your nose in a gel or spray form. Some elderly folks with gastric atrophy may be advised to take vitamin B12 supplements in addition to their monthly shots.
After commencement of treatment, symptoms may begin to improve within a matter of days. Neurological complications may reverse if your vitamin B12 deficiency was caught before any permanent nerve damage.
Treatment for any underlying cause of your pernicious anemia may be required as well. For example:
- surgery for intestinal problems
- dietary counseling for malnutrition
- antibiotics to treat stomach infections
Post treatment for pernicious anemia you can expect to recover, feel well and live a healthy life.