What is Pernicious Anemia?
Pernicious Anemia, in a simplified definition is the loss of body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12. It is also the most common cause of adult vitamin B12 deficiency.
Years ago, pernicious anemia was a major cause of death. The definition of “pernicious” is “having a harmful effect, esp. in a gradual or subtle way”. Thus, it was called “pernicious” because the condition would usually not be discovered until it was too late, and the individual with pernicious anemia would usually die.
Iron, Folate and Vitamin B12 are all needed to produce healthy red blood cells. The largest part of our blood is formed of red blood cells. A normal healthy person will have 600 red blood cells for each one white blood cell and 40 platelets. The main purpose of red blood cells is to carry oxygen from the lungs to cells throughout the body.
Red blood cells need three essential ingredients to perform their main function. These three ingredients are:
- Folate – found in leafy vegetables and peas and dried beans. Also known as Folic Acid, and added to some foods.
- Iron – found in red meat, fish, poultry, lentils, and beans
- Vitamin B12 – is found naturally in meat, fish and dairy products including milk, butter and eggs. However, B12 is extracted from these foods via a very complex biochemical process, utilizing the gastrointestinal system.
Vitamin B12 will enter the stomach bound to proteins called “Intrinsic Factor”. The Intrinsic Factor is then absorbed, along with the B12, by the Ileum which is part of the stomach in the small bowel. Without Intrinsic Factor, B12 cannot be absorbed into the body. Thus, the inability of the body to absorb B12, is caused by a faulty digestive process, and not, as many people think, by a malfunction of the blood!
Healthy people will produce the gastric parietal cells to produce Intrinsic Factor. However, if one’s digestive system is not functioning properly, their digestive system may fail to produce Intrinsic Factor, and thus fail to absorb Vitamin B12. This can then lead to a deficiency of Vitamin B12.
For some reason, some people produce something that kills off the Intrinsic Factor. It is called Anti-Intrinsic Factor Antibodies. One of the tests used to diagnose Pernicious Anemia is the test for Anti-Intrinsic Factor Antibodies. If a patient tests positive for the antibodies then he or she is diagnosed as having Pernicious Anemia.
Medical conditions in which this type of self-destruction occurs are classified as Auto-Immune Diseases.
Pernicious Anemia is typified by a number of symptoms. The most common symptoms include:
- shortness of breath
- extreme fatigue
- fogginess of thought
- poor concentration
- short-term memory loss
- confusing behavior
- nominal aphasia (forgetting names of objects or ideas)
- clumsiness and/or lack of coordination
- brittle nails; dry skin
- mood swings, bouts of unexpected crying, heightened emotions
Some neurological symptoms include the following (and usually indicate severity of the disease):
- dizziness, faintness
- frequently bumping into or falling against walls
- general unsteadiness, especially when showering and dressing
- inability to stand up with eyes closed or in the dark
- numbness/tingling in the extremities
- Tinnitus – ringing or buzzing in the ears
If you experience many of these symptoms you should see your local doctor. Ask for the Anti-Intrinsic Factor Antibody Test.
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