Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms can occur if a person lacks the vitamin from the foods they’re eating. Two groups of people that may be at risk of this are vegans and vegetarians or people with certain medical conditions, such as pernicious anaemia. Vegans and vegetarians may be at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency because the best sources of B12 are from foods of an animal origin. Conditions such as pernicious anaemia affect a person’s absorption of B12 from foods.
Vitamin B12 is essential for healthy function of the body as it assists in the production of red blood cells and keeping nerves healthy.
A lack of B12 could affect a person’s red blood cell production and damage nerves.
If this occurs, complications may arise, including temporary infertility, pregnancy complications and heart conditions.
The best way to avoid these complications is to spot symptoms early, and one to be aware of is on the lips.
According to Thyroid Patient Advocacy (TPA), a symptom of even borderline vitamin B12 deficiency is sores at the corners of the lips.
These can sometimes extend along the edge of the lip.
It adds: “These are raw spots, not blisters, and they tend to come and go.”
Another sign of vitamin B12 deficiency can appear inside the mouth – an itchy or tingling tongue.
The tongue may suddenly itch from time to time without warning.
TPA explains: “This occurs on the edge of the tongue, along one side or the other or at the tip.
“There is an irresistible urge to scratch the tongue not he teeth to stop the itching.
“Some individuals experience stinging, pain, or tingling instead of itching.”
Other symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency
Other symptoms are listed by Bupa:
- Feeling very tired
- Breathlessness even after little exercise
- Heart palpitations
- A reduced appetite
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.