Symptom Guide For Vitamin B12 Deficiency

February 26, 2024

What would happen if the level of vitamin B12 in an individual's body drops? Consider the following case. A publication in the New England Journal of Medicine reviews the case of a sixty-two-year-old man who was taken to the Massachusetts General Hospital with weight loss, paresthesias, jaundice, and anemia. According to the report, the patient had been well until two months before his admission at the hospital when he started developing numbness and burning sensation in his hands, began turning yellow, and breathing became extremely difficult.

The cause of these symptoms on the patient was lack of vitamin B12, also known as the energy vitamin. The symptoms would have become worse if the patient hadn’t received proper treatment on time. Everyone's body needs vitamin B12 to make and protect nerves, red blood cells, DNA and also carry out other critical functions. On average, an adult should consume 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 each day. Our bodies can’t manufacture vitamin B12, and thus, we must obtain it from the diet or supplements. Get familiar with the details regarding the warning signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency now.

Heart Palpitations

Having heart palpitations can cause anxiety and stress, but these rapid heartbeats do not usually indicate there is a heart issue present. Mostly, rapid heartbeats are associated with psychological causes such as stress and anxiety, or dietary issues. Heart palpitations refer to episodes where individuals have an excessively fast heartbeat for some time. Technically, the heart is considered palpitating when it beats more than one hundred times per minute. When these rapid heartbeats happen, individuals will feel their heart pounding on their chest. If individuals put their fingers on their neck, they will notice an abnormally strong pulse.

These palpitations can be extremely scary especially if they occur while individuals rest. Besides psychological and dietary issues, these palpitations may be caused by hypothyroidism and a lack of vitamin B12. Low levels of vitamin B12 can trigger an increase in the level of homocysteine in the blood, a common amino acid that increases toxicity in the blood and impairs the functioning of the heart. Vitamin B12 helps regulate the levels of homocysteine in the blood.

Muscle Weakness

Muscle weakness is one of the common symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 is a vital ingredient in the manufacturing of red blood cells, which are responsible for the transportation of oxygen to all muscles in the body. Once in the muscles, oxygen is used in the production of energy in the form of ATP. Therefore, the lack of vitamin B12 may cause fatigue since the muscles are not receiving enough oxygen for energy production. The muscles, when they do move, often feel sluggish to the individual with a vitamin B12 deficiency. Someone who could previously carry heavy things will likely find their abilities significantly diminished.

Vision Loss

Vitamin B12 is among the eight components that make the vitamin B complex. Vitamin B12, which is found in milk and its products, eggs, fish, poultry, and meat, plays a vital role in sustaining proper brain function, DNA synthesis, protein metabolism, and protection of the nerves. Human liver can store five hundred times the amount of vitamin B12 we need, so dietary deficiency alone is rare.

However, when vitamin B12 levels go low, it can cause damage to the nerves, including the optic nerve that relays information from the eyes to the brain. The information relayed by the optic nerve includes color, brightness, and contrast. If the functioning of the optic nerve is impaired, our vision is impacted. Vision loss as a result of vitamin B12 deficiency may start with colors becoming less bright. The vision loss is gradual, and it may initially affect one eye or both. The nerve damage could be due to insufficient blood and nutrients reaching the optic nerve or by inflammation of the nerve.

Numbness Or Tingling

The numbness or tingling sensations can occur due to nerve damage resulting from a severe vitamin B12 deficiency. The nerves in the body are covered by a protective sheath known as myelin. Vitamin B12 is an important contributor in the metabolic pathway leading to the production of myelin.

If there is not enough vitamin B12 in the body, the protective sheath is produced differently where it fails to protect the nerve ending from damage by free radicals. A burning sensation on various parts of the body is among the signs the nerves have lost their protective sheath. The numbness and tingling are mostly felt in the hands and the feet. With that said, the sensation of pins and needles may have many causes, so other symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency must be present for an accurate diagnosis.

Pale Skin And Jaundice

Pale skin is another symptom associated with vitamin B12 deficiency. A lack of enough vitamin B12 causes an individual to lose a lot of color in their face and develop a slight yellow tinge to their skin, and the eyes begin turning white. The condition is known as jaundice. The symptom shows when the body fails to produce enough red blood cells.

As highlighted earlier, vitamin B12 plays a key role in the manufacturing of DNA needed in the production of red blood cells. The DNA provides instructions that help the body to make red blood cells. If the instructions on the DNA are not clear, the red blood cells fail to divide, resulting in megaloblastic anemia. The red blood cells that fail to divide are too large to pass out of the bone marrow into the blood circulation. The cells are also fragile, which cause them to break easily, resulting in excess bilirubin production.

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