Pernicious Anemia

Treating pernicious anemia, a cause of vitamin B12 deficiency, is straightforward. But you will benefit from careful management by Rush hematologists.
Treating pernicious anemia, a cause of vitamin B12 deficiency, is straightforward. But you will benefit from careful management by Rush hematologists.

When you have pernicious anemia, your stomach does not make enough intrinsic factor, a protein that helps your body absorb vitamin B12.

Pernicious anemia is an autoimmune problem. By mistake, your immune system attacks the cells that make intrinsic factor. As a result, your stomach can't process vitamin B12 from foods you eat. This, in turn, impacts your body's ability to produce enough red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout your body, resulting in anemia.

Signs You Should Get Help for Pernicious Anemia

Symptoms range from mild to severe and include the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Pale skin
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Headache
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Tingling or numb hands and feet
  • Problems with balance or walking
  • Digestive issues such as nausea, heartburn or gas
  • Tongue that is thick, red and smooth
  • Desire to eat nonfood items such as dirt, ice or paint (called pica)

If your symptoms last more than a few weeks and are not caused by other health problems, talk to your primary care physician.

Pernicious Anemia Treatment at Rush

Not all cases of vitamin B12 deficiency are caused by pernicious anemia. Some people, including those on strict vegan diets (no meat, fish or dairy products) do not consume enough vitamin B12. Other causes of vitamin B12 deficiencies include having certain intestinal diseases, such as Crohn's, or having had part of your stomach or intestines removed. Getting older can also cause B12 deficiencies because the body does not absorb the vitamin as well as people age.

Pernicious anemia is more common is people with diabetes or thyroid disease.

Your doctor will examine you and order a test to measure your vitamin B12 levels. You may also need to have your bone marrow analyzed to determine if you have pernicious anemia.

Treatment for pernicious anemia, as well as other types of vitamin B12 deficiencies, usually involves taking vitamin B12 via pills or injections (shots into your arm, thigh, or other muscle).

At Rush, our hematologists are experienced in determining exactly how much vitamin B12 you need to relieve your symptoms. You may need large, frequent doses until your vitamin B12 levels rise. Afterward, you may take less frequent or lower doses to maintain your vitamin B12 levels. By regularly measuring and adjusting your B12 intake, we can help prevent recurrences of fatigue and other symptoms.

Rush Excellence in Pernicious Anemia

  • Expert care: At Rush, our hematologists treat children and adults with all types of blood disorders. They are also involved in clinical and laboratory research aimed at uncovering new insights and treatments for these disorders. As a result, we have a deep understanding of pernicious anemia and other blood disorders and are on top of the latest breakthroughs in prevention and treatment.
  • Access to a wide-range of physician specialists: Rush hematologists will monitor your health for signs of complications that can develop with pernicious anemia, including gastric cancer, nerve damage, heart issues and memory problems. Because Rush is a major academic health system, we can refer you to physician experts to manage or treat any complications that may develop. You can also get comprehensive care for any diseases contributing to your vitamin B12 deficiency, such as diabetes and thyroid disease.
  • Making care convenient for you: If you require frequent vitamin B12 injections, our nurses can teach you how to administer them to yourself at home, or teach one of your loved one's to give you the shots.