Vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia

Vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia

Vitamin B12 or B9 (folate) deficiency anaemia occurs when a lack of these vitamins causes the production of abnormally large red blood cells that cannot function properly.

Red blood cells use haemoglobin to carry oxygen throughout the body.

Anaemia refers to having fewer red blood cells than normal or an abnormally low amount of haemoglobin in each red blood cell.

### Symptoms of Vitamin B12 or Folate Deficiency

Vitamin B12 and folate are essential for various bodily functions, including maintaining a healthy nervous system. A deficiency in either vitamin can cause a wide range of symptoms, including:

- Extreme tiredness
- Lack of energy
- Pins and needles
- Sore and red tongue
- Mouth ulcers
- Muscle weakness
- Vision problems
- Psychological issues, ranging from mild depression or anxiety to confusion and dementia
- Memory, understanding, and judgment problems

Some of these symptoms can also occur with a deficiency in vitamin B12 or folate without anaemia.

### When to See a GP

If you suspect you have a vitamin B12 or folate deficiency, consult a GP. These conditions can often be diagnosed based on symptoms and blood test results. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial as some problems caused by the deficiency can be irreversible, even though many symptoms improve with treatment.

### Causes of Vitamin B12 or Folate Deficiency

Several factors can lead to a deficiency in vitamin B12 or folate, including:

- **Pernicious anaemia**: An autoimmune condition where your immune system attacks stomach cells, preventing vitamin B12 absorption. This is the most common cause of vitamin B12 deficiency in the UK.
- **Dietary deficiency**: Rare, but can occur in vegans who do not take B12 supplements or consume fortified foods, or in those with poor diets over a long period.
- **Medications**: Certain drugs, such as anticonvulsants and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), can interfere with vitamin absorption.

Both deficiencies are more common in older adults, affecting about 1 in 10 people aged 75 or older and 1 in 20 people aged 65 to 74.

### Treating Vitamin B12 or Folate Deficiency Anaemia

Most cases of vitamin B12 and folate deficiency can be treated with supplements or injections. Vitamin B12 is often initially given by injection, followed by either B12 tablets or regular injections, depending on the cause of the deficiency. Treatment may be temporary or lifelong.

Folic acid tablets are used to restore folate levels, typically taken for four months. Dietary improvements can also help treat and prevent the condition. Vitamin B12 is found in meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, and fortified foods, while good sources of folate include green vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and peas.

### Complications of Vitamin B12 or Folate Deficiency Anaemia

Although uncommon, long-term vitamin B12 or folate deficiency (with or without anaemia) can lead to complications such as:

- Nervous system problems
- Temporary infertility
- Heart conditions
- Pregnancy complications and birth defects

Severe anaemia in adults can also increase the risk of heart failure. While some complications improve with treatment, others, such as nervous system issues, can be permanent.

 

A Vitamin B12 test kit can help you gain insights into the levels of Vit B12 in your blood. 

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