Pernicious Anemia: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options

Couple Drinking Glass of Milk

For individuals who look in the mirror and see that their tongue appears to be much redder than its normal pink hue, there's a chance they may have a certain blood disorder known as pernicious anemia. According to National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), this disorder affects the body's ability to make enough healthy red blood cells due to a lack of a certain protein called intrinsic factor.

Your body needs this protein to absorb vitamin B12, which is a necessary nutrient that keeps the nervous system working properly and creates red blood cells. When it lacks intrinsic factor protein, this diminishes the absorption of B12 and inhibits the production of red blood cells in your body.

Causes and Risk Factors

The NHLBI explains that certain autoimmune disorders can be a risk factor for pernicious anemia, such as type 1 diabetes. This disorder is most common in older adults, but it can also affect children — particularly in the rare instance they inherit a disorder that keeps their bodies from producing intrinsic factor. There are also other conditions and factors that can cause a vitamin B12 deficiency, including infections, surgery, medicines and diet.

This disease is chronic and progresses slowly, as the NHLBI notes. Replacement therapy with adequate amounts of vitamin B12 will often correct the deficiency. However, individuals with this blood disorder also have a higher risk of developing stomach cancer. Therefore, it's important to make sure that you visit your healthcare provider and dentist regularly so they can properly diagnose any changes in your general health and oral health, too.

Pernicious Anemia Tongue Symptoms

Pernicious anemia causes the surface of the tongue to look smooth and appear red instead of the pinkish color of a normal tongue, according to the NHLBI. The tongue might also be thick or beefy in texture. Some tongues might even be swollen or appear to have cracks, as The Pernicious Anaemia Society notes. Further, patients with this blood disorder might have ulcers in their mouths.

Other Pernicious Anemia Symptoms

According to John Hopkins Medicine, some other symptoms of this disorder are as follows:

  • Numb or tingling feeling in hands and feet
  • Weak muscles
  • Nausea
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Fast heart rate

Because these symptoms can overlap with those of other blood disorders or heath issues, it's important to seek a diagnosis from your doctor. Typically, they can determine the deficiency through a blood test.

Treatment Options

Treating pernicious anemia will warrant the help of a doctor. According to the NHLBI, patients may need lifelong treatment, but taking vitamin B12 shots or pills is usually very effective.

A well-balanced diet, including foods rich in vitamin B12 and folic acid, is also essential to treating the condition, notes John Hopkins Medicine. Here are some good sources of both:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Milk

Continuing to take vitamin B12 supplements and eating a well-balanced diet will allow you to live comfortably with pernicious anemia. To keep your mouth healthy through any symptom flare-ups, brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and floss daily. It's important to maintain regular appointments with both your medical and dental professional so they can address any unusual findings and start you on a treatment path for your best overall health.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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