What is vitamin B12 deficiency anemia?
Having vitamin B12 deficiency means that your body does not have enough
of this vitamin. You need B12 to make
red blood cells , which carry oxygen through your body. Not having enough B12 can
lead to anemia, which means your body does not have enough red blood cells to
do the job. This can make you feel weak and tired. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause damage to your nerves and can effect memory and thinking.
What causes vitamin B12 deficiency anemia?
people get more than enough B12 from eating meat, eggs, milk, and cheese.
Normally, the vitamin is absorbed by your digestive system—your stomach and
intestines. Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia usually happens when the digestive
system is not able to absorb the vitamin. This can happen if:
- You have
pernicious anemia. In this anemia, your body destroys
the cells in your stomach that help you absorb vitamin B12.
have had surgery to remove part of the stomach or the last part of your small
intestine, called the
ileum . This includes some types of surgery used to
help very overweight people lose weight.
- You have problems with
the way your body digests food, such as
sprue (also called celiac disease),
Crohn's disease, bacteria growth in the small
intestine, or a
This anemia can also happen if you don't eat enough foods
with B12, but this is rare. People who eat a
vegan diet and older adults who don't eat a variety of
foods may need to take a daily vitamin pill to get enough B12. Other causes include drinking alcohol and taking some prescription and nonprescription medicines.
What is the recommended daily amount of vitamin B12?
The amount of vitamin B12 you need depends on your age.
Daily recommended B12: 1
| Age (years) || Daily amount of B12 (micrograms)
|14 and older ||2.4 mcg|
|Pregnant women ||2.6 mcg|
|Breast–feeding women ||2.8 mcg|
What foods contain B12?
Vitamin B12 is found in foods from animals, such as meat, seafood, milk products, poultry, and eggs. It is not in foods from plants unless it has been added to the food (fortified). Some foods, like cereals, are fortified with vitamin B12.
Supplements containing only B12, or B12 along with other B vitamins and/or folate, are readily available. Also, B12 is usually in multivitamins. Check the label to find out how much B12 is in a supplement.
Estimates of B12 in certain foods 2
| Food || Serving size || B12 amount (microgram)|
|Beef liver ||3 ounces ||71 mcg|
|Clams ||3 ounces ||84 mcg|
|Cereal fortified with 100% daily value for B12 ||1 serving ||6 mcg|
|Rainbow trout ||3 ounces ||3 mcg|
|Nonfat plain yogurt ||8 ounces ||1 mcg|
|Large egg ||1 egg ||½ mcg|
|Chicken breast ||½ breast ||½ mcg|
What are the symptoms?
If your vitamin B12
deficiency is mild, you may not have symptoms or you may not notice them. Some
people may think they are just the result of growing older. As the anemia gets
worse, you may:
- Feel weak, tired, and lightheaded.
- Have pale skin.
- Have a sore, red tongue or bleeding
- Feel sick to your stomach and lose weight.
Have diarrhea or constipation.
If the level of vitamin B12 stays low for a long time, it
can damage your nerve cells. If this happens, you may have:
- Numbness or tingling in your fingers and
- A poor sense of balance.
- Dementia, a loss of mental abilities.
How is vitamin B12 deficiency anemia diagnosed?
Your doctor will examine you and ask questions about your past health and
how you are feeling now. You will also have blood tests to check the number of
red blood cells and to see if your body has enough vitamin B12.
The level of
folic acid, another B vitamin, will be checked too.
Some people whose vitamin B12 levels are too low also have low levels of folic
acid. The two problems can cause similar symptoms. But they are treated differently.
How is it treated?
Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia is treated with
supplements of vitamin B12. Taking supplements brings your level of vitamin B12 back to normal, so you do not have symptoms. To keep your level of vitamin B12 normal, you will probably need to take
supplements for the rest of your life. If you stop taking them, you'll get anemia again.
Your vitamin B12 supplements might be pills or shots. If you use shots, you can learn to give
them to yourself at home. For
many people, pills work just as well as shots. They also cost less and are
easier to take. If you have been getting shots, ask your doctor if you can
switch to pills. Another form of treatment is a vitamin B12 nasal spray (such as Nascobal).
You can take steps at home to improve your health
by eating a varied diet that includes meat, milk, cheese, and eggs, which are
good sources of vitamin B12. Also, eat plenty of foods that contain
folic acid, another type of B vitamin. These include
leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, and fortified breads and cereals.
Can vitamin B12 deficiency anemia be prevented?
Most people can prevent this anemia by including animal products like
milk, cheese, and eggs in their diets. People who follow a vegan diet can
prevent it by taking a daily vitamin pill or by eating foods that have been
fortified with B12.
Babies born to women who eat a vegan diet
should be checked by a doctor to see whether they need extra vitamin
If you have a high risk of getting this type of anemia, your doctor can give you vitamin B12 shots or pills to prevent it.