Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells provide oxygen to body tissues. There are many types of anemia.
Pernicious anemia is a decrease in red blood cells that occurs when the intestines cannot properly absorb vitamin B12.
Pernicious anemia is a type of vitamin B12 anemia. The body needs vitamin B12 to make red blood cells. You get this vitamin from eating foods such as meat, poultry, shellfish, eggs, and dairy products.
A special protein, called intrinsic factor (IF), helps your intestines absorb vitamin B12. This protein is released by cells in the stomach. When the stomach does not make enough intrinsic factor, the intestine cannot properly absorb vitamin B12.
Common causes of pernicious anemia include:
Very rarely, pernicious anemia is passed down through families. This is called congenital pernicious anemia. Babies with this type of anemia do not make enough intrinsic factor. Or they cannot properly absorb vitamin B12 in the small intestine.
In adults, symptoms of pernicious anemia are usually not seen until after age 30. The average age of diagnosis is age 60.
You are more likely to get this disease if you:
Certain diseases can also raise your risk. They include:
Some people do not have symptoms. Symptoms may be mild.
They can include:
If you have a low vitamin B12 level for a long time, you can have nervous system damage. Symptoms can include:
The doctor or nurse will perform a physical exam. Tests that may be done include:
Pernicious anemia may also affect the results of the following tests:
The goal of treatment is to increase your vitamin B12 levels:
Your doctor or nurse will also recommend eating a well-balanced diet.
Patients usually do well with treatment.
It is important to start treatment early. Nerve damage can be permanent if treatment does not start within 6 months of symptoms.
People with pernicious anemia may have gastric polyps. They are also more likely to develop gastric cancer and gastric carcinoid tumors.
Brain and nervous system problems may continue or be permanent if treatment is delayed.
A woman with low B12 levels may have a false positive Pap smear. This is because vitamin B12 deficiency affects the way certain cells (epithelial cells) in the cervix look.
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.
There is no known way to prevent this type of vitamin B12 anemia. However, early detection and treatment can help reduce complications.
Macrocytic achylic anemia; Congenital pernicious anemia; Juvenile pernicious anemia; Vitamin B12 deficiency (malabsorption)
Antony AC. Megaloblastic anemias. In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ Jr, Silberstein LE, et al., eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 37.
Updated by: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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