Vitamin B12 deficiency: GP details four problematic symptoms you need to be aware of

Dr Dawn Harper on signs of vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiency

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Vitamin B12 is critical for red blood cell production so, without adequate supplies of the nutrient, not enough red blood cells are created or each blood cell doesn’t have enough haemoglobin, Dr Shahaney explained. “This is called anaemia,” added Dr Shahaney, stating that “this means you can’t transport enough oxygen around your body”. Just one of the problematic symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency, another is nerve damage.

“Vitamin B12 is needed to make myelin — a protective sheet that covers your nerves,” said Dr Shahaney.

“If this isn’t caught early enough it can cause irreversible nerve damage.”

When the optic nerve becomes damaged (the nerves behind the eyes), it can lead to blurred vision.

“Long-term vitamin B12 deficiency can also cause problems with your balance,” warned Dr Shahaney.

Moreover, a deficiency in this nutrient can lead to psychological issues, such as confusion and depression.

“A vitamin B12 deficiency is also linked to poor memory and dementia,” Dr Shahaney added.

Four problematic symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency

  1. Anaemia
  2. Nerve damage
  3. Balance issues
  4. Psychological issues.

Dr Shahaney – the head of clinical operations at Thriva, a blood testing service – listed signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency, which might include:

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Pins and needles (especially in your hands and feet)
  • A swollen and sore tongue (glossitis)
  • Blurred vision
  • Poor memory
  • Depression.

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“In rare cases, it can cause heart and fertility problems,” said Dr Shahaney.

“Thriva actually offer a vitamin B12 test [£27] so users can check if they think their levels might be low,” Dr Shahaney pointed out.

Alternatively, you can book a blood test via your doctor’s surgery – just make sure to tell your GP that you want your vitamin B12 levels checked.

The NHS added other symptoms you might experience if a vitamin B12 has lead to a deficiency. This includes:

  • Lethargy
  • Breathlessness
  • Feeling faint
  • Headaches
  • Pale skin
  • Noticeable heartbeats
  • Tinnitus
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss.

What causes a vitamin B12 deficiency?

One of the most common causes of a vitamin B12 deficiency in the UK is pernicious anaemia.

This is an autoimmune condition whereby the stomach cells are attacked by the body.

These stomach cells are responsible for creating the protein intrinsic factor.

Intrinsic factor is needed to mix with vitamin B12 so that the nutrient is reabsorbed into the body when travelling through the gut.

Some people become deficiency in vitamin B12 due to a restrictive diet.

This is especially true for those who practise veganism – when a person doesn’t eat animal products.

Vitamin B12 is found in animal products, such as dairy, meat and fish.

Stores of vitamin B12 can last around two to four years without being replenished, so it can take a while for a dietary change to cause symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency.

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