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Pernicious Anemia, Causes, Symptoms, And Available Treatments

Pernicious anemia is an autoimmune condition that leads to a lack of red blood cells. A deficiency in vitamin B-12 causes it. Pernicious anemia is a rare condition with a higher occurrence among those over 60 years of age.

A protein called intrinsic factor helps a person absorb vitamin B-12 in the gut. The stomach makes intrinsic factor. However, people with pernicious anemia release an antibody in error. This antibody attacks the cells in the stomach that make intrinsic factor. This autoimmune reaction can reduce or stop its production. The cause for this autoimmune deficit is currently unknown.

A lack of intrinsic factor will reduce B12 levels and the number of red blood cells.


pernicious anemia


pernicious anemia


Pernicious Anemia: Symptoms

There are a number of symptoms:

  • tiredness
  • shortness of breath
  • shiny or smooth, red tongue
  • pale skin
  • chest pain
  • numb feeling in the hands or feet
  • balance difficulties
  • poor coordination
  • slow reflexes
  • confusion
  • depression


Pernicious Anemia: Treatments

Doctors treat pernicious anemia with vitamin B-12 replacement therapy, which they give via injection.

A doctor will inject a vitamin B-12 shot into a person’s muscles. Injections are given on a daily or weekly basis until vitamin B-12 levels return to normal.

Vitamin B-12 oral pills are a less frequently used treatment. A 2016 review, however, found them to be an effective alternative to vitamin B-12 shots. It also noted that people might prefer taking pills.

It is best for people to discuss the various options with their doctor who can recommend the most appropriate treatment for each person.

Symptoms may start to improve a few days or weeks after treatment begins.

Left untreated, pernicious anemia puts extra strain on the heart and can bring serious illness such as:

  • heart murmur
  • rapid heartbeat
  • heart arrhythmia
  • enlarged heart
  • heart failure

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