Man, 62, hospitalised after a slew of B12 deficiency symptoms

Dr Dawn Harper on signs of vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiency

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Vitamin B12 plays a major role in your body, from aiding psychological function to supporting the nervous system, which makes it integral to quality of life. From cognitive impairment to trouble walking, the absence of this essential vitamin can hit your body hard. A case report, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, leaves no doubt about the vitamin’s importance.

While vitamin deficiencies might not seem like the scariest conditions out there, the case of a 62-year-old man paints a scary picture of how quickly things can deteriorate.

In just two months, the patient developed a slew of serious symptoms that landed him in the hospital.

It all started with paraesthesia and a “burning” sensation in his hands.

Typical for a vitamin B12 deficiency, paraesthesia, also known as pins and needles, describes the feelings of pricking, tingling or numbness on the skin.

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The pain and sensations in his hands kept progressing until he began to drop objects.

He decided to start taking ibuprofen but new symptoms kept appearing.

The next cluster of signs comprised of decreased appetite and unintentional weight loss of more than 6.5 kilograms.

Around six weeks before the hospital admission, his family started to notice a yellow tint in his eyes and skin. The NHS notes that a pale-yellow tinge to your skin is another tell-tale sign of the deficiency.

Two weeks before the admission, the signs started to get “extreme”, with fatigue, shortness of breath, and weakness and abdominal pain taking over his body. 

One week later, his wife spotted another red flag symptom of a vitamin B12 deficiency – a change in his gait and unsteadiness when standing.

The lack of the essential vitamin can cause changes in the way that you walk and move around, the health service explains.

Eventually, these symptoms drove the 62-year-old to an emergency department of the Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

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The clinical signs and further tests made experts believe that the man suffered from a “profound” vitamin B12 deficiency. 

If this man’s case isn’t scary enough for you, the Harvard Medical School warns “it could have been worse”.

“A severe vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to deep depression, paranoia and delusions, memory loss, incontinence, loss of taste and smell, and more,” the health school adds.

The tricky part of vitamin B12 deficiency is the volume of symptoms you need to be aware of.

According to the NHS, the full list of vitamin B12 deficiency tell-tale signs includes:

  • Pale yellow tinge to your skin
  • Sore and red tongue (glossitis)
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Pins and needles (paraesthesia)
  • Changes in the way that you walk and move around
  • Disturbed vision
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Changes in the way you think, feel and behave
  • Decline in your mental abilities, such as memory, understanding and judgement (dementia).
  • Once you identify these signs, it’s important to see a GP promptly, according to the health service.

It states: “Although many of the symptoms improve with treatment, some problems caused by the condition can be irreversible if left untreated.

“The longer the condition goes untreated, the higher the chance of permanent damage.”

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