Pernicious Anemia and Vitamin B-12 Deficiency

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

anemia letters

What is Pernicious Anemia?

Pernicious anemia is a condition in which a peron's red blood cell count is low because of a vitamin B12 deficiency. Before doctors learned that pernicious anemia could be treated with vitamin B12, many people died from the condition.

Pernicious anemia facts

  • Pernicious anemia is defined as a type of vitamin B12 deficiency that results from impaired uptake of vitamin B-12 due to the lack of a substance known as intrinsic factor (IF) produced by the stomach lining.
  • Pernicious anemia is a condition caused by too little vitamin B12 in the body. It is one form of vitamin B12 deficiency anemia.
  • Vitamin B12 helps the body make healthy red blood cells and helps keep nerve cells healthy. It is found in animal foods, including meat, fish, eggs, milk, and other dairy products.
  • The most common cause of pernicious anemia is the loss of stomach cells that make intrinsic factor. Intrinsic factor helps the body absorb vitamin B12 in the intestine. The loss of parietal cells may be due to destruction by the body's own immune system.
  • Pernicious anemia can cause permanent damage to nerves and other organs if it goes on for a long time without being treated. It also raises the risk for developing stomach cancer.
  • Common signs and symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, seen in pernicious anemia are:
    • Feeling tired and weak
    • Tingling and numbness in hands and feet
    • A bright red, smooth tongue
  • Pernicious anemia is diagnosed using family history and medical history, a physical exam, and diagnostic tests and procedures.
  • Pernicious anemia is easy to treat with vitamin B12 pills or shots as well as diet changes. Life-long treatment is needed.
  • Complications caused by untreated pernicious anemia may be reversible with treatment.
  • Doctors don't know how to prevent pernicious anemia that is caused by the immune system destroying stomach cells.
  • Eating foods high in vitamin B12 and folic acid can help prevent vitamin B12 deficiency caused by a poor diet.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/11/2016

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