Cobalamin deficiency is also known as B12 deficiency. It occurs when the digestive system is unable to retain and absorb B12 from foods. B12 is vital to the production of red blood cells. Without enough red blood cells, there is not enough oxygen being carried throughout the body. Low red blood cell count is called anemia.
Mild cases of deficiency have some symptoms but they are often minimal and unnoticed. Common cobalamin deficiency symptoms include paleness and fatigue. When the anemia gets worse, a person may get lightheaded, weak, feel nauseated, and have diarrhea. Severe cases of anemia are accompanied by bleeding gums, a red tongue, or sores in the mouth. In some instances, nerve damage can also occur.
Cobalamin deficiency anemia can also coincide with folic acid deficiency. Folic acid is another kind of B vitamin, which aids in the production of cells, including red blood cells. This deficiency occurs when a person does not eat enough green vegetables or citrus. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and kidney problems can also cause a folic acid deficiency.
If left untreated for too long, cobalamin deficiency can cause serious problems. In addition to nerve damage, mental health can be affected. This deficiency can lead to depression and dementia. Psychosis and mania are also possible with long-term deficiency. Most instances of mental health problems disappear as the deficiency is reversed, unless the mental problems are caused by another condition but symptoms are amplified by the B12 deficiency.
To diagnose a cobalamin deficiency, doctors must perform tests. Finger sticks use a small drop of blood and a special test to check red blood cell levels. Comprehensive blood tests determine the exact cause of the anemia and the severity of the deficiency by checking B12 levels. Based on the test results, the dosage of required B12 supplementation is determined.
Treatment for cobalamin deficiency is fairly simple. Doctors will prescribe vitamin B12 supplements. If the anemia is severe, the supplements are often in injection form. When the anemia is mild, B12 is prescribed in pill form. Regardless of which form is prescribed, the supplements will be needed for the rest of the patient’s life.
Dietary changes can prevent cobalamin deficiency. Meat, milk, and eggs are excellent food sources rich in B12. For vegetarians and vegans, over-the-counter B12 supplements can provide proper amounts of B12. If a digestive problem is the cause of the deficiency, low-dose B12 shots are ideal options for providing supplementation.