Vitamin B12 deficiency can occur if a person isn’t getting enough of the vitamin from the foods their eating. The vitamin is vital for the production of red blood cells in the body and for keeping nerves healthy. If the vitamin is in short supply, this will affect a person’s red blood cell count and nerves can become damaged. If vitamin B12 deficiency is left untreated, complications affecting movement and co-ordination can occur, and a person may also be a risk of heart problems.
Vegans and vegetarians can be at risk of the condition because vitamin B12 is best gained from foods of an animal origin.
Certain medical conditions can also affect a person’s absorption of vitamin B12 from foods, such as pernicious anaemia.
To avoid the complications of vitamin B12 deficiency it’s important to recognise the symptoms so you can receive treatment as early as possible.
One symptom to note may appear in the hands.
According to Thyroid Patient Advocacy, sharp stabbing, tingling pain in the palm of one or both hands can indicate vitamin B12 deficiency.
It explains: “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.”
Tingling and pain like this in the hands can occur because vitamin B12 deficiency can affect the nerves. This is called vitamin B12 neuropathy.
Vitamin B12 neuropathy can also cause confusion, depression, poor concentration and forgetfulness.
Other symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency
Bupa lists other signs to watch out for:
- Feeling very tired
- Breathlessness even after little exercise
- Heart palpitations
- A reduced appetite
- A sore mouth and tongue
The health organisation adds: “If you have vitamin B12 deficiency you may also look pale or jaundiced (have a yellowy tinge to your skin and the whites of your eyes).”
It’s important to note these symptoms aren’t always due to vitamin B12 deficiency, but if you experience them you should still see your GP.
Treatment of vitamin B12 deficiency
If a person isn’t getting enough vitamin B12 from their diet they may be advised by a GP to eat more foods 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 foods in the diet, Harvard Health Publishing, part of Harvard Medical School, offers the “A list of B12 foods” on its website.