Have you recently experienced a feeling of weakness accompanied by sudden spells of dizziness? Does your body temperature dip suddenly, or do you feel irritable for no apparent reason? If so, you are experiencing the classic symptoms of anemia.Anemia is a medical condition which is characterized by a decrease in the production of red blood cells or hemoglobin in the body.
Anemia is a widely prevalent medical problem especially among adult women. In fact, nearly one third of the world population suffers from some form of anemia.Pernicious anemia is a type of anemia brought about by a deficiency of vitamin B-12. When the body is unable to absorb vitamin B-12 from the GI or gastro intestinal tract, it can also cause pernicious anemia.
Pernicious anemia is a relatively rare form of anemia with 1 in 680 people in the United Sates being diagnosed with this type of megaloblastic anemia every year. Although a rare form of anemia, pernicious anemia can prove to be a serious and life threatening condition if it is left untreated.
What is Pernicious Anemia?
When the human body is unable to produce enough red blood cells due to a severe deficiency of Vitamin B12 it leads to a condition called pernicious anemia. Pernicious anemia which is also called Addison’s or Biermer’s anemia is characterized by the formation of large, nucleated and immature or juvenile cells which circulate in the blood stream but do not function as RBC or Red Blood Cells.
Pernicious anemia is likely to affect individuals, who suffer from a severe deficiency of cobalamin or vitamin B-12. For the proper absorption of vitamin B12 from the intestine a special protein called intrinsic factor is essential. When the stomach produces reduced amounts of this protein, vitamin B12 or cobalamin cannot be absorbed by the intestine. This condition can also cause pernicious anemia.
Types of Pernicious Anemia
Depending on the factors which have triggered this type of megaloblastic anemia, pernicious anemia may be subdivided into the following three types.
Congenital Pernicious Anemia
This type of pernicious anemia is brought about by a defect in the special protein called intrinsic factor which aids in the absorption of Vitamin B12. This type of pernicious anemia is inherited at birth and is classified as a congenital disorder.
Juvenile Pernicious Anemia
Juvenile pernicious anemia affects children younger than 10 years. Juvenile pernicious anemia is caused by the inability of the child’s intestinal system to produce adequate amounts of the special protein called intrinsic factor. A reduced production of this protein leads to the mal-absorption of vitamin B12. This in turn gives rise to a relatively rare form of pernicious anemia called juvenile pernicious anemia.
Adult Onset Pernicious Anemia
While pernicious anemia is most common among older adults, especially those who are older than 60, this kind of anemia can also affect younger adults (those older than 30). This type of anemia is again brought about by the failure of the stomach to properly absorb the vital vitamin cobalamin or vitamin B-12. A diet that is highly lacking in vitamin B-12 can trigger adult onset pernicious anemia.
Causes of Pernicious Anemia
The primary cause of pernicious anemia is a severe deficiency of vitamin B12. Listed below are some of the factors which can bring about pernicious anemia.
An autoimmune disorder wherein the immune system of the body launches an attack against the special protein called intrinsic factor or even the cells which produces the special protein can result in mal-absorption of vitamin B-12. This can give rise to severe vitamin B-12 deficiency and ultimately lead to pernicious anemia.
Individuals who are suffering from autoimmune disorders like Grave’s disease, vitiligo or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis have higher chances of developing pernicious anemia.
Atrophic gastritis refers to the chronic inflammation of the gastric mucosa. When the stomach lining becomes weakened due to atrophic gastritis it can result in mal-absorption of several nutrients including vitamin B-12. This in turn gives rise to pernicious anemia.
The major food sources of vitamin B-12 are meat and dairy products. Strict vegetarians who refuse to consume animal by products have a higher chance of developing this type of anemia.Increased metabolism of Vitamin B-12 and taking certain kinds of medications are the other factors which can cause pernicious anemia.
Risk Factors For Pernicious Anemia
Certain Individuals fall into the high risk category for developing pernicious anemia.
Individuals who have a family history of pernicious anemia are more likely to develop this condition at some point in their life.
Individuals who have had a part of their stomach or small intestine removed surgically have a higher risk of suffering from pernicious anemia.
People of Northern European or Scandinavian descent have a higher likelihood of having this kind of anemia.
People who suffer from various intestinal disorders including Crohn’s disease or other kinds of intestinal infections fall into the high risk category for developing pernicious anemia.
Strict vegetarians who abstain from all types of animal based food products (including dairy products) are very likely to be diagnosed with pernicious anemia.
Certain Disease Conditions
Individuals diagnosed with health problems like secondary amenorrhea, Addison’s disease and Type 1 diabetes have a higher risk of developing pernicious anemia.
Signs and Symptoms of Pernicious Anemia
The signs and symptoms of pernicious anemia can broadly be classified as apparent or obvious symptoms and non apparent or vague signs and symptoms.
Obvious Signs and Symptoms
Some of the clear symptoms of pernicious anemia are pale skin color, shortness of breath, dizziness, weakness, tingling sensation in the limbs and a rapid heart beat. Extreme fatigue, swelling of the gums followed by excessive bleeding, swelling of the tongue, frequent bouts of diarrhea or severe constipation are some of the other obvious signs and symptoms of pernicious anemia.
Vague Signs and Symptoms
Confusion, loss of balance, mood swings, depression and numbness in the limbs are some of the less obvious or ambiguous signs and symptoms of pernicious anemia.
Pernicious Anemia Treatment
A complete blood test can help in determining whether an individual is suffering from pernicious anemia or not. Once a person is diagnosed with this type of anemia, he or she is given a course of vitamin B-12 injections. These patients may also be advised to take high dosages of vitamin B-12 orally. Eating a diet that is high in vitamin B-12 is also recommended.