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Pernicious Anemia
(Vitamin B-12 Deficiency)

Pernicious Anemia Overview

Pernicious anemia is a type of anemia (reduced number of red blood cells or hemoglobin in the body) due to the body's inability to absorb vitamin B-12 from the gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms from anemia are a result of the decreased capacity of the blood to carry oxygen and include fatigue and shortness of breath. In addition, the deficiency of vitamin B-12 also can damage the nervous system.

Vitamin B-12 is also known as cobalamin (Cbl). Animal products, both meat and dairy, are the only dietary sources of vitamin B-12 for humans. Because the body has stores of vitamin B-12, inadequate dietary intake must persist for years before a true deficiency of vitamin B-12 occurs. For this reason, the pernicious anemia usually takes years to establish and is most commonly diagnosed in adults with an average age of 60. Also, a rare, form of pernicious anemia called congenital pernicious anemia is present at birth.

Pernicious anemia is a form of megaloblastic anemia. Megaloblastic anemia is characterized by an abnormally large size of red blood cell (megaloblast) that is formed by the bone marrow when vitamin B-12 or folic acid levels are low. Megaloblastic anemia can also develop with other conditions that affect the bone marrow and as an effect of some chemotherapy drugs. Bacterial overgrowth in the gastrointestinal tract can also cause a lack of B-12.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/31/2014

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