Vitamin B12 deficiency: Dr warns of ‘irreversible’ damage if warning signs are ignored
Speaking exclusively to the Express.co.uk, Dr Dan Bunstone shares his expertise on the symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency. In addition, the GP reveals how a diagnosis is made, and what you can do if you’re not near your local doctor’s surgery. “Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause a wide range of symptoms which tend to develop gradually,” said Dr Bunstone. The NHS doctor proceeded to say that “a pale-yellow tinge” of the skin is common; this is known as jaundice.
Another common symptom to be aware of is a “sore and red tongue” known as glossitis.
Dr Bunstone continued to say that “mouth ulcers, pins and needles, visual disturbances, irritability and depression” could all be signs that your red blood cells aren’t healthy.
“B12 deficiency is diagnosed based on your symptoms and the result of a blood test,” he explained.
“Those worried they may be suffering from this should contact their GP,” advised Dr Bunstone.
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He warned the deficiency must be “diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible”.
Otherwise, Dr Banstone said “the condition can cause irreversible problems” – with the NHS pointing out the following complications:
- Heart issues
- Heart failure
- Vision problems
- Memory loss
- Difficulty speaking or walking
- Damage to the nervous system
- Stomach cancer
- Neural tube defects in pregnancy
Dr Banstone recognised that coronavirus restrictions may have left some people living outside of their usual place of residence for extended periods of time.
“Anyone who is worried they may be deficient in B12 and is unable to visit their doctor in a timely manner for these reasons can book a same-day virtual GP appointment using the Push Doctor app,” he said.
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What causes a vitamin B12 deficiency?
The most common culprit for a vitamin B12 deficiency in the UK is due to pernicious anaemia, said the national health body.
The autoimmune condition causes the body’s immune system to attack healthy cells in the stomach.
In healthy individuals, the protein in the stomach produces intrinsic factor that binds to vitamin B12.
By combing intrinsic factor with vitamin B12, it’s able to be reabsorbed back into the body.
When a person has pernicious anaemia, this simply does not happen; instead, intrinsic factor isn’t produced and vitamin B12 is lost through excrement.
The exact cause of pernicious anaemia is still unknown, but it’s more often diagnosed in women around 60 years of age.
It’s also more prevalent in those with other autoimmune conditions, such as vitiligo.
Others may develop a vitamin B12 deficiency if they follow a vegan diet or have a very poor diet.
“Stores of vitamin B12 in the body can last around two to four years without being replenished,” explained the NHS.
“So it can take a long time for any problems to develop after a dietary change.”
A surgical procedure that involved part of the stomach being removed may also have lead to a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Furthermore, taking proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) may also worsen a pre-existing vitamin B12 deficiency.
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