Vitamin B12 deficiency: The sensation in the chest warning of ‘irreversible’ complications

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

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Vitamin B12 is a nutrient essential for nerve and cell health, which is usually acquired through food. Its role consists mainly of ensuring the nervous system is functioning properly. A deficiency in B12 is typically characterised by fatigue, faintness headaches and pale skin. A burning sensation in the chest, however, could signal that a long-term deficiency has begun to wreak havoc on the nerves.

The most prevalent psychiatric conditions associated with B12 deficiency include delusions, irritability, and decreased interest in surroundings.

Long-term deficiency, however, can lead to more serious heart and neurological problems, including B12 neuropathy.

To better understand B12 neuropathy, some researchers drew on the case of a 28-year-old female who presented with painful burning sensations in the chest, numbness and tingling sensations on the hands and feet.

READ MORE: Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms: Three physical warning signs you can see

The symptoms were present over a period of five years and began as an intermittent burning sensation on the pectoral region of the upper chest.

It eventually progressed to numbness of the upper and lower limbs.

The female reported mild weakness of the hands and feet, insomnia, irritability and constipation.

A diagnosis of vitamin B12 deficiency-related neuropathy was made based on the woman’s symptoms and further tests.

Researchers said the case highlighted the need for an increased index of suspicion of vitamin B12 deficiency in patients.

They wrote: “Vitamin B12 deficiency neuropathy is a rare debilitating disease that affects mostly the elderly.

“However, young adults with neuropathic symptoms warrant a high index of suspicion.

“Peripheral blood smears and complete blood counts are sufficiently diagnostic in resource-limited settings.”

Peripheral neuropathy is defined as nerve damage that causes pain, numbers and weakness.

B12 has been shown to protect the layer that surrounds and protects the nerve, so without the vitamin nerves cease to function properly, which leads to peripheral neuropathy.

Studies have shown that even mild deficiency may affect the nervous system and prevent the brain from functioning properly.

The NHS states: “A lack of vitamin B12 can cause neurological problems, which affect your nervous system, such as damage to the parts of the nervous system, known as peripheral neuropathy.

“If neurological problems do develop they may be irreversible.”

Studies suggest that the prevalence of the deficiency in the UK is one in 10 people aged 75 and over, and one in 20 people aged 65-74.

One of the main causes of the autoimmune condition is pernicious anaemia, but other causes include conditions affecting the stomach and small intestine.

A deficiency in vitamin B12 will rarely affect people who eat meat, fish, eggs and dairy products.

Vegans are therefore often advised to eat fortified food or take supplements.

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