Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin, responsible for the production of red blood cells and keeping the nervous system healthy. Red blood cells carry oxygen around the body, but are unable to do so properly if there are too few of them or if they are abnormally formed. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause red blood cells to become abnormally large, which can disrupt their ability to carry oxygen. Anaemia is the general term for having too few red blood cells, or red blood cells which are abnormally formed.
Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are varied, and if left untreated can cause health complications.
It’s usually easy to treat vitamin B12 deficiency, so getting a diagnosis is essential in order to prevent complications.
So how do you know if you have a vitamin B12 deficiency?
There are an array of symptoms associated with condition, including extreme tiredness, a lack of energy, pins and needles and muscle weakness.
Other symptoms include breathlessness, feeling faint, headaches, pale skin, heart palpitations, loss of appetite and weight loss.
It can also cause a sore and red tongue, mouth ulcers, disturbed vision, and problems with memory, understanding and judgement.
Vitamin B12 deficiency may also lead to psychological problems such as depression and confusion.
“See your GP if you think you may have a vitamin B12 deficiency. This condition can often be diagnosed based on your symptoms and the results of a blood test,” said the NHS.
“It’s important for vitamin B12 deficiency to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible because, although many of the symptoms improve with treatment, some problems caused by the condition can be irreversible.”
Complications associated with vitamin B12 deficiency include problems with the nervous system, temporary infertility, heart conditions and pregnancy complications.
Complications are uncommon, but can happen in people who have been deficient in B12 for some time.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can be usually be easily treated with injections or tablets to replace the missing vitamins.
B12 supplements are usually given by injection at first. If the deficiency is related to a lack of B12 in your diet, you may require tablets between meals.
Foods containing B12 include meat, salmon, cod, milk, cheese, eggs, yeast extract and some fortified breakfast cereals.
In some cases, improving your diet can help treat vitamin B12 deficiency and prevent it from recurring.
But if vitamin B12 deficiency is unrelated to your diet, you may have to be treated with injections for the rest of your life.