Anemia is a low level of healthy red blood cells (RBC). RBCs carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. When red blood cells are low the body does not get enough oxygen.
Pernicious anemia is caused by a problem absorbing vitamin B12. This vitamin is needed to make healthy RBCs. Over time the low vitamin B12 levels will reduce the number of new RBCs. The sooner pernicious anemia is treated, the better the outcome.
There are many possible causes of pernicious anemia. These include:
Pernicious anemia is more common in people over 50 years old. It is also more common in those of northern European or Scandinavian descent. Other things that may increase the risk include autoimmune disorders, such as:
Symptoms may change or worsen over time and may include:
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. A blood test will show low levels of RBCs. Other blood tests will also show low levels of proteins, vitamins, and other items needed to build RBCs. Other tests may be done to see why vitamin B12 levels are low.
The goal of treatment is to boost vitamin B12 levels. This should let your body increase the number of RBCs and ease anemia. Treatment may include:
There are no steps to prevent pernicious anemia.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Explore pernicious anemia. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/prnanmia. Accessed February 7, 2020.
Pernicious anemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/pernicious-anemia. Updated March 20, 2019. Accessed February 7, 2020.
Vitamin B12. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements website. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional. Updated July 9, 2019. Accessed February 7, 2020.
Last reviewed September 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD Last Updated: 8/5/2020