Vitamin B12 deficiency occurs when a person lacks the vitamin in their body. The vitamin is vital in the production of red blood cells and keeping the nerves healthy, and is best gained through diet. But foods rich in B12 tend to be from an animal origin, which means vegans and vegetarians are at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. Certain medical conditions can also lead to a person struggling to get enough B12 from their diet – for example people with pernicious anaemia, a condition that affects the body’s absorption of B12 from foods.
If a person lacks B12 in their diet then their red blood count will be low and their nerves will be affected.
This is when the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are triggered.
If the condition is left untreated, problems related to vision, memory and physical co-ordination can occur, as well as heart failure, which is why recognising the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency is very important.
Three feelings in the body may indicate low levels of B12 in the body, according to Thyroid Patient Advocacy – migraines, tingling pain in a number of places in the body, and nerve shock in the side of the body.
Migraine headaches may occur if a person is deficiency in vitamin B12. It explains: “These may be preceded by a temporary blind spot in the centre of the field of vision, usually lasting about ten minutes, and sometimes followed by facial pain under the eyes.
“After the blind spot vanishes, there may be zigzag streaks through the vision that may last up to hours. Even in the same person, there may be extreme variations in the headaches themselves. They may be quite severe with nausea or they may be virtually nonexistent.
How can it be a migraine if there’s virtually no pain? Doctors say it’s a migraine if the described visual problems occur, whether there is significant pain or not.
“(Migraines of most individuals have causes other than B12 deficiency, but migraines of certain individuals diminish or stop completely after they are treated for B12 deficiency.)”
Tingling along the back of one or both thighs and the hands can also be signs of the condition.
It says tingling along the back of one or both thighs may start at the hips and shoot downward.
“This starts out as more an annoyance than pain, but can develop into pain if not treated,” it explains.
Tingling in the hands may appear as a sharp stabbing or tingling pain in the palm of one or both hands.
It says: “This occurs suddenly and for no apparent reason in a spot directly below the ring finger, approximately where the first palm crease is.
“If B12 deficiency is not treated, a tingling pain may begin to occur along the outside edge of the hand, starting from the wrist. This pain occurs when the wrist is flexed backward.”
Nerve shock in the side of the body
This can be felt coming on a few seconds before it hits, and then may hit almost like a mild but deep electric shock before it quickly subsides.
It adds: “It can occur at the side of either hip or on either side of the upper body, along the ribs.
“Worse yet, it can occur consecutively in at least two or three locations, one right after the other.”
Other vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms
Bupa lists six other symptoms of the condition to look out for:
- Feeling very tired
- Breathlessness even after little exercise
- Heart palpitations
- A reduced appetite
- A sore mouth and tongue
Treatment of vitamin B12 deficiency
If a person if not getting enough vitamin B12 from their diet they may be advised by a GP to eat more food fortified with vitamin B12 or to take regular supplements.
Vitamin B12 injections may also be recommended, and for those with pernicious anaemia, injections may be required for the rest of their lives.
Experts say adults aged 19 to 64 require around 1.5 micrograms (mg) a day of vitamin B12, and unless you have pernicious anaemia, you should be able to get this through your diet.
If vitamin B12 deficiency is triggered by not including enough B12 in the diet, Harvard Health Publishing, part of Harvard Medical School, offers the “A list of B12 foods” on its website.