Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms: Four neurological problems that might be irreversible

Dr Dawn Harper on signs of vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiency

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Symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency develop gradually – so gradual, in fact, that you could be missing vital clues that your internal functions are struggling. Fatigue and lethargy – two signs you’re deficient in vitamin B12, according to Ada – could easily be dismissed as getting older or just the way things are. Ada – created by doctors and scientists – provides healthcare services.

Other clues of a vitamin B12 deficiency include:

  • Mouth ulcers
  • Canker sores
  • Constipation
  • Breathlessness
  • Faintness
  • Headaches.

As the body is depleted even more of its vitamin B12 supplies, other symptoms emerge.

For instance, you may become irritable and feel low in yourself, turning into depression.

These symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency can develop ever so slowly, and it will take time for the symptoms to worsen.

Due to megaloblastic anaemia, you might experience ringing in the ears (i.e. tinnitus), an altered sense of taste, and heart palpitations.

You may also become pale in colouring, lose your appetite and, consequently, lose weight.

People who experience pins and needles, or numbness, may be referred to a hematologist if they let their doctor know what they’re experiencing.

This could be an indication that the nervous system is now being affected by a vitamin B12 deficiency.

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If the deficiency has reached this stage, treatment might involve life-long injections of vitamin B12.

“Where there has been a severe or prolonged deficiency, nerve damage may be permanent and irreversible,” Ada warned.

Do note that over-the-counter B12 supplements “usually do not contain adequate amounts of vitamin B12 to correct a deficiency”.

Warning signs of neurological problems, some of which may become “irreversible”, include:

  • Vision disturbances
  • Memory loss
  • Pins and needles
  • Difficulty walking
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Nerve damage in the legs.

Ada added: “Anaemia of all kinds can sometimes cause serious heart and lung complications.”

For instance, it’s possible for megaloblastic anaemia to lead to heart failure.

To prevent complications, anybody who suspects they might have a vitamin B12 deficiency are urged to contact their doctor.

A blood test will be arranged to check for a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Am I at risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency?

You are at risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet.

This is because vitamin B12 is found in animal products, such as meat, fish and dairy.

Foods fortified with vitamin B12 are available in supermarkets, such as breads fortified with vitamin B12.

As well as dietary insufficiencies, an acquired autoimmune condition could cause a vitamin B12 deficiency even if you eat animal products.

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