Vitamin B12 deficiency occurs if a person lacks the vitamin from the foods they’re eating. Two common reasons why this can happen is if a person eats a vegan or vegetarian diet or as a result of a certain medical condition. Vegans and vegetarians can be at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency because the main sources of B12 are from foods of an animal origin. Conditions, such as pernicious anaemia, can affect a person’s absorption of B12 from foods.
Vitamin B12 is vital in the production of red blood cells in the body and for keeping nerves healthy.
If the vitamin is in short supply, a person’s red blood cell count will be low and nerves risk being damaged.
When this happens, complications can develop, including problems with the nervous system, temporary infertility and even heart failure.
But if vitamin B12 deficiency is spotted in the early stages, the condition can be easily treated and complications can be avoided.
Among the symptoms to be aware of are a headache, according to the NHS.
But Thyroid Patient Advocacy goes into more detail about the type of headache associated with the condition.
It identifies migraine headaches as a sign of vitamin B12 deficiency, adding: “These may be preceded by a temporary blind spot in the centre of the field of vision, usually lasting about ten minutes, and sometimes followed by facial pain under the eyes.
“After the blind spot vanishes, there may be zigzag streaks through the vision that may last up to hours.
“Even in the same person, there may be extreme variations in the headaches themselves. They may be quite severe with nausea or they may be virtually nonexistent.”
But how can it be a migraine if there’s virtually no pain?
It adds: “Doctors say it’s a migraine if the described visual problems occur, whether there is significant pain or not.”
It’s important to not that migraines have causes other than vitamin B12 deficiency.
Other symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency
Other symptoms of the condition are outlines by Bupa:
- 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 anaemia, you may also look pale or jaundiced (have a yellowy tinge to your skin and the whites of your eyes).
“As well as the symptoms of anaemia, vitamin B12-deficiency may cause symptoms related to your nerves. This is called vitamin B12 neuropathy. It may affect your movement and sensation, especially in your legs, cause numbness or pins and needles and decrease your sensitivity to touch, vibration or pain. It can also cause confusion, depression, poor concentration and forgetfulness.
“These symptoms aren’t always due to vitamin B12-deficiency anaemia, but if you have them 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.