Vitamin B12 deficiency develops when the body doesn’t get enough B12. The vitamin plays an important role in the production of red blood cells and helps nerves stay healthy. A person who lacks B12 will usually lack red blood cells, and nerves can become damaged. B12 is best gained through diet, which is why some people can be at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency.
Vegans and vegetarians may be at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency because most B12-rich foods are of an animal origin.
And some medical conditions can also affect a person’s absorption of B12 from food, such as pernicious anaemia.
If vitamin B12 deficiency is left untreated, serious health problems can occur, which can affect a person’s movement, vision and memory.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can also put people at increased risk of infertility and stomach cancer.
To avoid these complications happening it’s important to recognise all the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.
One symptom to be wary of can appear on the tongue.
According to Thyroid Patient Advocacy, an itchy or tingling tongue can be a sign of vitamin B12 deficiency.
Describing what happens, it says: “The tongue suddenly itches from time to time without warning. This occurs on the edge of the tongue, along one side or the other or at the tip.
“There is an irresistible urge to scratch the tongue on the teeth to stop the itching. Some individuals experience stinging, pain, or tingling instead of itching.”
Other vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms
Bupa lists five other symptoms of the condition to look out for:
- Feeling very tired
- Breathlessness even after a little exercise
- Heart palpitations
- A reduce appetite
- A sore mouth
Treatment of vitamin B12 deficiency
If a person is not getting enough vitamin B12 from their diet they may be advised by a GP to eat more foods fortified with vitamin B12 or to take regular supplements.
Vitamin B12 injections may also be recommended, and for those with pernicious anaemia, injections may be required for the rest of their lives.
Experts say adults aged 19 to 64 require around 1.5 micrograms (mg) a day of vitamin B12, and unless you have pernicious anaemia, you should be able to get this through your diet.
If vitamin B12 deficiency is triggered by not including enough B12 in the diet, Harvard Health Publishing, part of Harvard Medical School, offers the “A list of B12 foods” on its website.