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. This can cause symptoms such as fatigue, pale skin, or irregular heartbeat.
Pernicious anemia is associated with problems 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. If you suspect you have this condition, contact your doctor.
Red Blood Cells
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Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.
Tests may include the following:
- Complete blood count (CBC)—a count of the number of red and white blood cells in a blood sample
- Vitamin B12 level—a test that measures the amount of vitamin B12 in the blood
- Methylmalonic acid (MMA) level—a measurement of the amount of methylmalonic acid in the blood; this test determines whether a vitamin B12 deficiency exists.
- Homocysteine level—a test that measures the amount of homocysteine in the blood (homocysteine is a building block of protein)
- Schilling test—a test in which a harmless amount of radiation is used to assess the amount of stored vitamin B12
- Red blood cell folate level—a measurement of the amount of a B vitamin called folate
- Intrinsic factor assay—a measurement of the amount of a protein called intrinsic factor normally produced by the stomach
- Bone marrow staining—a test that shows whether an iron deficiency exists
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:
Vitamin B12 Injections
The treatment consists of injections of vitamin B12 into a muscle. These injections are necessary because the intestines cannot absorb enough vitamin B12 without an adequate supply of intrinsic factor from the stomach.
Oral Vitamin B12 Supplement
If you are elderly, your doctor may advise you to take oral B12 supplements alone or in addition to injections of vitamin B12.
Intranasal Vitamin B12
Your doctor may give you a supplement of vitamin B12 that is placed in the nose.
Oral Iron Therapy
This treatment is recommended when an iron deficiency exists. In this case, the doctor will tell you to take iron supplements before treating with vitamin B12.