Pernicious anemia is an autoimmune disorder in which the body cannot make adequate amounts of red blood cells (RBCs) because of the inadequacy of vitamin B12/cobalamin. This vitamin is essential for the production of RBCs and also required for the proper functioning of the nervous system. It generally afflicts those people who have lost the capability to absorb vitamin B12 from food.
The best sources of B vitamins are animal foods, like eggs, fish, meat, milk, and other dairy products. Some of the other names of this disorder are: megaloblastic anemia, vitamin B12 deficiency anemia, congenital pernicious anemia, Biermer's anemia, Addison's anemia, or combined systems disease.
There are many kinds of anemia of which pernicious anemia is one. When you have anemia, it means that there are not enough RBCs, therefore, the cells of the body do not get enough oxygen. Hence, tiredness is one of the main symptoms.
This condition was given the name 'pernicious' (meaning extremely harmful) anemia, because it was considered to be quite fatal in the past before it was discovered that the inadequacy of cobalamin was the root cause, and since there were no specific treatments available. Biermer's anemia can become serious if it is not treated for a long time as, it can cause a permanent damage to the body. This condition is particularly common amongst older adults.
Causes of Megaloblastic Anemia
When a person is afflicted with this blood disorder, the blood cells become enlarged in size because they do not divide properly; hence, it is difficult for them to move out of the bone marrow. There are several factors that result in the deficiency of cobalamin:
- Due to the lack of a certain kind of protein in the stomach known as intrinsic factor (IF), which is produced by special types of cells known as parietal cells. These cells are located in the stomach's lining and can be destroyed in some people by their own immune system or due to a stomach surgery. A stomach surgery can involve a partial or total removal of the stomach. This surgery is also done for weight loss. After this surgery has been perfomed, vitamin B12 from food cannot be absorbed since the IF cannot be produced.
- Due to a diet deficient in cobalamin, which can happen if you are on a strictly vegetarian diet or if your diet is poor because of alcoholism or aging.
- Because of intestinal disorders, such as intestinal infections and Crohn's disease, which can affect the absorption of this vitamin.
- There is also a rare genetic disorder wherein the children lack the ability to produce IF.
How does Addison's anemia Affect the Body?
Those who are afflicted usually feel weak and tired, as the body does not get enough oxygen. If this condition is not treated for a long time, it can result in serious problems being caused to various other parts of the body, such as the heart, nerves, and digestive tract.
The Heart: In those who suffer from this disorder, the heart is forced to work harder so that the tissues and organs of the body get enough oxygen. This creates a lot of stress on the heart, leading to an enlargement of the heart, irregular or fast heartbeats, heart murmurs, or heart failure.
Heart problems arise due to the lack of cobalamin, because it raises the level of a chemical known as homocysteine in the body. This chemical can exacerbate the buildup of fatty matter deposits in the blood cells, which can in turn cause strokes or heart attacks.
The Nerves: Nerve cells can be damaged by the inadequacy of cobalamin leading to problems, like numbness and tingling in the feet and hands as well as problems with balance and walking. Low levels of this vitamin can also bring about changes in the vision, smell, and taste. It can also lead to mental changes, which include confusion and loss of memory.
The Digestive Tract: A vitamin B12 deficiency can affect the tongue's surface and result in the thinning or shrinking of the stomach's lining. When any such changes take place in the stomach, it increases the chances of developing stomach cancer.
Generally, Biermer's anemia can be treated quite easily with the help of vitamin B12 shots or pills. However, permanent damage to the nerves can occur in some people before they discover that they have this disorder and get the necessary treatment. Periodic tests for cancer may be done by the doctor, since this anemia increases the chances of acquiring stomach cancer. However, those who get a proper treatment, which can last lifelong, can live a healthy life. But, symptoms, such as memory loss, tiredness, etc., may persist depending on the stage in which the person was diagnosed.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.