Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Meaning, Diagnosis and Overview

What is Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

Vitamin B12 is essential for life. It is needed for the synthesis of DNA (genetic material) and red blood cells as well as for the proper functioning and health of nerve tissue. It also helps our bodies absorb folic acid, facilitates the release of energy.
Vitamin B12 deficiency if left untreated may lead to anemia (loss of red blood cells- which provide oxygen to the body)
Vitamin B12 overview

Recovery Time

 Recovery from B12 deficiency takes time. Typically it requires lifelong supplementation with vitamin B12.
With proper treatment, symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency begin to improve within 6 to 12 months of supplementation, though some people will suffer from lasting deficits.
In vegans and other people whose B12 deficiency is diet-related, oral B12 supplements and a diet designed to increase consumption of vitamin B12 will cure the condition.
Vitamin B12 supplements


Diagnosis is carried out by a physical examination of signs like accelerated pulse and pale/yellowish skin. Others include
  • Blood tests
  • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) to examine the stomach
  • Enteroscopy to examine the small intestine
  • Bone marrow biopsy

FAQs prepared by doctor

Q1.What is Vitamin B12, why is it required for the body?
Vitamin B12 is a micronutrient which is required for many enzymatic reactions in the body. We do not synthesize Vitamin B12, so it has to take through food and absorbed through the intestines. It is stored in the liver and used as per the requirement of the body.

Q2.How do I get Vitamin B12 deficiency?
You get Vitamin B12 deficiency over a period of time if your intake is less. Or if there is some problem with absorption of Vitamin B12, eg, Pernicious anaemia or if there is destruction of the small intestine (disease / surgical removal). Vitamin B12 is stored in large quantities in the liver so it takes several years of deficiency to cause adverse effects.

Q3.How do I know I have Vitamin B12 deficiency?
You might experience symptoms like fatigue, memory impairment, and nerve irritability if you are having Vitamin B12 deficiency. Battery of blood tests gives us the quantitative analysis of Vitamin B12 in the body and to know the causative factor.

Q4.What are the harmful effects of Vitamin B12 deficiency?
Chronic Vitamin B12 deficiency over a period of time leads to irreversible damage to the spinal cord called Sub acute combined degeneration of the spinal cord.

Q5.How do I correct Vitamin B12 deficiency?
Vitamin B12 deficiency can be corrected by taking large doses of Vitamin B12 injections. It is non-toxic and excess of Vitamin B12 is excreted through urine. In case of deficiency due to mal-absorption injections have to be taken in regular intervals after initial large dose.

Q6.How do I prevent Vitamin B12 deficiency?
You can prevent Vitamin B12 deficiency by taking foods rich in Vitamin B12.  Pure vegetarians are at a risk of developing Vitamin B12 deficiency more. They are advised to take regular supplements and foods fortified with Vitamin B12.

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