What is pernicious anemia?

Pernicious Anemia
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Pernicious anemia: Overview

Pernicious anemia means that you do not have enough red blood cells. It happens when your body can't absorb vitamin B12 from food.

Your body needs vitamin B12 to make red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen around your body. Vitamin B12 also helps your nerves work well.

Your doctor can treat this problem with vitamin B12 shots. You may also take vitamin B12 by pill or nasal spray.

With treatment, most anemia gets better in a few days. But if you have severe anemia, you may need a blood transfusion to give you red blood cells as quickly as possible.

Pernicious anemia

Pernicious anemia is a blood disease caused by the lack of a substance (intrinsic factor) that the body needs in order to absorb vitamin B12 from food. Without enough vitamin B12, the body does not produce enough red blood cells, and cells throughout the body do not get the oxygen they need.

In pernicious anemia, the body produces antibodies that either destroy the parietal cells (cells in the stomach that make intrinsic factor) or that block the action of intrinsic factor. A doctor can diagnose this disease by doing a blood test that looks for these antibodies.

Symptoms include weakness, numbness in the hands and feet, loss of appetite, weight loss, and fever. Pernicious anemia can damage the nerve cells in the brain and spinal column.

The treatment for pernicious anemia is supplements of vitamin B12. These may be given as shots, pills, or a nasal spray. Because the body can no longer absorb this vitamin from food, the supplements must be continued for life.

Pernicious anemia can happen at any age. But the chances of getting it increase as people get older.

How can you care for yourself when you have pernicious anemia?

  • Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions about vitamin B12 shots, vitamin B12 pills, or a vitamin B12 nasal spray.
  • Eat a varied diet. Include foods with a lot of vitamin B12, such as eggs, milk, and meat.
  • Do not drink alcohol while you are being treated. Alcohol can prevent the body from absorbing vitamin B12.
  • Eat foods that have folate (also called folic acid). This is another type of B vitamin. Foods with folate include leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, and fortified cereals.

Pernicious anemia: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are dizzy or light-headed, or you feel like you may faint.
  • You have new or worse bleeding.
  • You are short of breath.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have numbness or tingling in your hands or feet.
  • You feel weaker or more tired.
  • You have trouble with balance or coordination.
  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.