Dr Dawn Harper on signs of vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiency
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Vitamin B12 deficiency can be highly debilitating. A case report published in the journal BMC Research Notes leaves no doubt. The case report is of particular interest because diagnosis of vitamin B12 deficiency is “challenging in resource limited-settings due to limited access to diagnostic tools and unfamiliarity with the disease, owing to its rarity especially in young people”, the case study authors wrote.
A 28 year-old sub-Saharan female presented with “insidious painful burning sensations on the upper trunk, symmetrical numbness and tingling sensation on the hands and feet”, progressing over a five year-period, the report stated.
These symptoms began as “intermittent burning sensations” on the upper trunk, which progressed to numbness and paraesthesia (pins and needles) of the upper and lower limbs respectively.
These were associated with mild weakness of the hands and feet, insomnia, irritability and constipation.
Before presenting to the clinic, the woman had consulted in numerous health institutions for which she had been treated for diverse pathologies with no “relieve of symptoms”.
Adding to the confusion was her otherwise clean bill of health: she neither smoked cigarettes nor consumed alcohol.
What’s more, the case report revealed she ate meat regularly – on a weekly basis.
This rules out the possibility that her B12 deficiency was a result of her diet: the vitamin is mainly found in animal products.
After clinical and laboratory evaluation, a diagnosis of vitamin B12 deficiency-associated neuropathy was made.
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Neuropathy is damage or dysfunction of one or more nerves that typically results in numbness, tingling, muscle weakness and pain in the extremities.
B12 deficiency is a cause of neuropathy because the vitamin plays a key role in supporting the nervous system.
The woman was placed on oral vitamin B12 supplements at 2 mg daily for three months.
Follow up was marked by “good clinical recovery” after one month of therapy, the case report stated.
What causes vitamin B12 deficiency?
According to the NHS, vitamin B12 deficiency occurs when a lack of the vitamin affects the body’s ability to produce fully functioning red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body.
Pernicious anaemia is the most common cause of vitamin B12 deficiency in the UK.
It’s an autoimmune condition whereby your immune system attacks the cells in your stomach that produce intrinsic factor – a protein which helps your body to absorb vitamin B12.
Some people can develop a vitamin B12 deficiency as a result of not getting enough vitamin B12 from their diet.
A diet that includes meat, fish and dairy products usually provides enough vitamin B12, but people who do not regularly eat these foods can become deficient.
How to treat B12 deficiency
The treatment for vitamin B12 deficiency depends on what’s causing the condition.
Most people can be easily treated with injections or tablets to replace the missing vitamins.
There are two types of vitamin B12 injections:
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