Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin found in animal foods like fish, poultry, meat and eggs.
It is one of the most important vitamins you need since it plays a critical role in the production of your red blood cells, DNA and the functioning of your nervous system.
A deficiency in B12 is common, specifically in those who are older and those who don’t eat the foods rich with the vitamin.
Fortunately, many foods, such as certain bread and plant-based milk, will be fortified with B12, making it easier for those who don’t consume animal products to stay healthy. A supplement may also be taken if you’ve been diagnosed with a B12 deficiency.
Knowing what a vitamin deficiency looks like is step one in getting your levels back to normal. Here’s everything you need to know about a vitamin B12 deficiency.
How Do You Know if You Have a Vitamin B12 Deficiency?
- Pale of jaundiced skin:
If you do not have enough B12 in your body, you may notice a pale or yellow tinge to your skin, known as jaundice. This occurs as a result of problems with the body’s red blood cell production.
- Weakness and fatigue:
When your body doesn’t have sufficient B12, it is difficult for oxygen to be transported through your body. This causes you to feel overly tired and weak.
- The feeling of pins and needles:
Long-term nerve damage is a more serious effect of B12 deficiency. Typically, this occurs over time, as your body is unable to get enough of the fatty substance myelin, which serves as a protectant of your nerves.
When your deficiency goes untreated, it can result in changes to the way you walk and move. In some cases, it can even impact your balance and coordination. This can be serious for the elderly as it leaves them susceptible to falling.
- Tongue and mouth problems:
An inflamed tongue, also known as glossitis, can occur as a result of a B12 vitamin deficiency. Not only is it painful, it can also impact how you eat and speak. Those with a deficiency may also experience ulcers and a burning sensation in the mouth.
- Shortness of breath and dizziness:
A B12 deficiency can easily lead to anemia. When this happens, your body doesn’t have the red blood cells necessary to get enough oxygen to your body’s cells—which can cause you to feel short of breath and dizzy.
- Blurred vision:
An untreated B12 deficiency can cause damage to your nervous system that moves into your eyes. When this happens, your vision may become compromised, causing a condition called optic neuropathy.
- Changes in mood:
Depression and dementia are two conditions that can be caused by a B12 deficiency. It’s believed that low levels of B12 cause high levels of homocysteine, which can result in mood changes.
- High body temperature:
Although rare, a B12 deficiency can lead to a high temperature. Doctors are unsure why exactly this occurs; however, it’s believed to normalize after treatment begins.
How is a Vitamin B12 Deficiency Diagnosed?
Although you may show signs of a deficiency, it’s important that you receive a proper diagnosis form your doctor.
It’s common that the symptoms of a B12 deficiency may overlap with other health conditions.
Your doctor will want to know your medical history to determine if there is the possibility of an underlying issue. It’s a good idea to write everything down before your appointment.
A physical exam will then be done to determine if you have signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency. Symptoms like a rapid pulse or pale fingers can be a sign of anemia.
Finally, your doctor will most likely want to perform a laboratory test to check your complete blood count as well as your B12 level. This will confirm your deficiency.
What Happens if B12 Deficiency is Left Untreated?
If you are showing symptoms of a B12 deficiency, it’s important that you seek treatment as soon as possible.
When a deficiency is left untreated, it can worsen—causing issues that are irreversible.
If your deficiency gets bad enough, it can even lead to more serious complications, such as heart failure, nerve damage, bone issues and problems with your organs.
How to Raise Your B12 Levels Fast
The most common way to treat B12 deficiencies is by adjusting your diet. If this is unsuccessful, vitamin supplements may be recommended.
If you’re looking to boost the amount of vitamin B12 in your diet, you should eat more animal products, like meat, seafood, dairy and eggs. Fortified breakfast cereals are another great way to get more B12.
It is possible that your doctor may want you to take a vitamin B12 supplement in addition to your diet change. Typically, these supplements come in both pill and nasal spray form.
If your doctor wants to raise your B12 levels quickly, he or she may give you a higher-dose vitamin B12 shot.
How Long Does It Take to Recover from B12 Deficiency?
Once you begin treating your vitamin B12 deficiency, it can take up to six to 12 months to fully recover.
It is also common to not experience any improvement during the first few months of treatment.
If you can, it’s a good idea to address what’s causing the deficiency. In some cases, it’s possible that you will need to continue using supplementation for the rest of your life, even if your symptoms have improved.
To receive a proper B12 deficiency diagnosis, you should seek medical care as soon as symptoms arise.
CareNow® Can Help
At CareNow®, we have more than 100 locations throughout the United States—all fully staffed with qualified physicians and nurses ready to serve you.
Because we believe convenience is key, we welcome walk-in patients and offer a Web Check-In® feature that will allow you to check-in to your visit from the comfort of your home.
Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.