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Pernicious anemia is a blood disease caused by the lack of a
substance (intrinsic factor) that the body needs in order to absorb vitamin B12
from food. Without enough vitamin B12, the body does not produce enough red
blood cells, and cells throughout the body do not get the oxygen they
In pernicious anemia, the body produces antibodies that
either destroy the parietal cells (cells in the stomach that make intrinsic
factor) or that block the action of intrinsic factor. A doctor can diagnose
this disease by doing a blood test that looks for these antibodies.
Symptoms include weakness, numbness in the hands and feet, loss of
appetite, weight loss, and fever. Pernicious anemia can damage the nerve cells
in the brain and spinal column.
The treatment for pernicious
anemia is supplements of vitamin B12. These may be given as shots, pills, or a nasal spray. Because the body can no longer
absorb this vitamin from food, the supplements must be continued for
most often affects older adults. It is more common among people in certain
parts of the world, especially Scandinavia.
Current as of:
February 20, 2015
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Joseph O'Donnell, MD - Hematology, Oncology
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