Pernicious anemia is a type of megaloblastic anemia that causes vitamin B12 deficiency, due to an inability to absorb vitamin B12 naturally from food sources. Pernicious anemia can be hereditary, as an autoimmune disorder, but it can also occur later in life from prolonged gastrointestinal damage such as observed in Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, and GERD. Like all types of anemia, pernicious anemia affects red blood cell production.
Pernicious anemia symptoms and red blood cells
Vitamin B12 is a crucial nutrient, responsible for many important biochemical reactions throughout your body. Vitamin B12 supports cognitive functioning, maintains healthy nerve cells, and regulates homocysteine, a hormone associated with heart attack and stroke risks.
Another vital function of vitamin B12 involves production of healthy red blood cells. Vitamin B12 helps to maintain cellular integrity, and a lack of vitamin B12 causes cell metabolism to malfunction, resulting in a dangerously low supply of red blood cells.
With pernicious anemia- vitamin B12 deficiency, your body produces irregular red blood cells that are too large and grossly misshapen. Instead of flowing through your body to deliver oxygen, your red blood cells remain trapped in your bone marrow, unable to get out because of their size and shape.
As a result, you have fewer functioning red blood cells, meaning you do not have enough hemoglobin to carry oxygen to your various organs and cell tissues. A decrease in oxygen supplies causes hypoxemia, oxygen deficiency.
Symptoms of pernicious anemia that indicate hypoxemia include fatigue, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, slow thinking (“brain fog”), and irritability.
Pernicious anemia symptoms in the nervous system
Vitamin B12 is also a necessary nutrient for your nervous system, as it helps to maintain myelin, a fatty substance that coats each nerve cell. By sustaining myelin, vitamin B12 protects your nerve cells from damage and destruction, in addition to enhancing intercellular communication along the nerve cell network.
Long-term pernicious anemia can result in severe, sometimes permanent impairment of your nervous system, as vitamin B12 levels plummet. Demyelination, the gradual wearing down of the myelin sheath, leaves your nerve cells vulnerable to destruction from free radicals, toxins, and other harmful elements.
Pernicious anemia and multiple sclerosis (MS) are both examples of demyelinating illnesses that correlate with vitamin B12 deficiency.
Symptoms of nerve damage from pernicious anemia include:
- Frequent pain and tingling sensations in the extremities (hands and feet)
- “Pins and needles”
- Unsteady gait, difficulty walking without stumbling
- Difficulty grasping things with your hands, frequently dropping things
- Difficulty balancing on one leg
- Muscle soreness and weakness
- Slow reflexes
- Heart palpitations
- Irregular heartbeat
- Profuse sweating
- Difficulty swallowing
- Face twitching, particularly in one eye
- Sore, red tongue
- Burning mouth syndrome, affecting the lips, gums, tongue, and inner cheek
- Altered sense of taste
Treating pernicious anemia symptoms
As pernicious anemia causes your body to be unable to absorb vitamin B12 from food, your doctor will recommend lifelong vitamin B12 supplements that do not require digestion in the stomach.
Examples of vitamin B12 for pernicious anemia include:
- Vitamin B12 injections
- Sublingual vitamin B12 tablets that dissolve under the tongue
- Sublingual vitamin B12 drops
- Nonedible over-the-counter (OTC) vitamin B12 supplements