Pernicious Anemia: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Pernicious anemia is the consequence of a gastrointestinal problem that prevents the absorption of vitamin B12. We will tell you what it's about next.
Pernicious Anemia: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Written by Maite Córdova Vena, 16 July, 2021

Last update: 16 July, 2021

Pernicious anemia is a disease that occurs when the body fails to assimilate vitamin B12 efficiently due to stomach problems.

Although eating habits have some influence on this, they’re generally not the only cause of the problem. So, while improving your diet can be beneficial, it’s not the only way to tackle pernicious anemia.

Remember that vitamin B12 isn’t produced by the body naturally, but is obtained from food. Specifically, those of animal origin, such as red meat, fish, eggs, cheese, and others.

Let’s see more about this type of anemia below.

Causes

The causes of pernicious anemia
Inflammation in certain parts of the digestive tract can trigger pernicious anemia.

The MSD Manual clarifies the following:

“Pernicious anemia is often used synonymously with vitamin B12 deficiency. However, pernicious anemia specifically refers to anemia resulting from vitamin B12 deficiency caused by atrophic metaplastic autoimmune gastritis with loss of intrinsic factors.”

Pernicious anemia is also known as autoimmune gastritis, Biermer’s disease, or Addison-Biermer’s disease. It is caused by atrophic gastritis and is considered a disease of autoimmune origin, according to scientific literature.

However, it can also occur as a result of other health problems, such as Crohn’s disease or Helicobacter pylori infections. Likewise, it can arise as a result of a strict diet, such as the vegan diet, and the continuous consumption of some medications.

Symptoms

As with other types of anemia, pernicious anemia can cause a variety of symptoms. These, in addition to varying in intensity depending on the person, can be similar to those of other diseases. Usually, when anemia is in its early stages, symptoms are usually mild.

For this reason, while the following symptoms could provide clues regarding pernicious anemia, they could also indicate other health problems.

  • Fatigue (as in other types of anemia)
  • Pallor
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Short of breath

If anemia isn’t detected and treated early, symptoms can worsen over time, which can significantly affect quality of life.

Diagnosis

Pernicious anemia can be diagnosed in a number of ways
Blood tests can diagnose anemia, but the cause requires different studies.

For the diagnosis of pernicious anemia, the appointment and physical examination offer a good starting point. However, several tests are necessary to confirm this, such as a complete blood count (CBC), which is a type of blood test.

As stated in a review article titled Autoimmune gastritis: diagnosis and management of an underdiagnosed entity:

“The diagnosis currently requires a high clinical suspicion associated with several tests for its confirmation both in the laboratory as well as endoscopic tests and biopsies with their respective histology.”

Treatment

Improving your diet is highly recommended when you suffer from pernicious anemia. This should be balanced, varied, and sufficient, and preferably, should include regular sources of vitamin B12.

The sources with the highest amount of vitamin B12 are beef liver and clams. Fish, eggs, poultry, and dairy follow closely behind. On the other hand, fortified cereals are another useful source. To identify them, it’s advisable to check the labeling.

But you don’t just need a good diet to treat anemia. As experts point out, “Doctors treat pernicious anemia with injections of vitamin B12, although very high oral doses of vitamin B12 may also be effective.”

Injections into the muscle are given for set periods of time, which can last up to several months. It should be noted that most patients usually notice an improvement from the first week of receiving them.

Now, although there are vitamin B12 supplements, it’s important to consult with your doctor before starting to consume them so that they can provide real benefits. Not all cases are the same and the therapeutic strategy may vary from one to the other.

Once the doctor has offered all their recommendations, it’s best to follow them and combine them with good lifestyle habits. In this way, you won’t only be able to obtain improvements but also to provide yourself with a good quality of life.

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