Pernicious anemia is a decrease in red blood cells that occurs when the intestines cannot properly absorb vitamin B12, which the body needs to make red blood cell and to keep the nervous system working properly. A special protein made in the stomach, called intrinsic factor, is required for the intestines to absorb vitamin B12. When the stomach doesn’t make enough intrinsic factor, the intestines cannot absorb B12 properly.
Patients with pernicious anemia are treated at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center through the Blood Disorders Center. Continue reading to learn more about pernicious anemia or visit the Blood Disorders Center homepage to learn about our expertise and approach to treating this condition.
Common causes of pernicious anemia include a weakened stomach lining, called atrophic gastritis, or an autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system attacks intrinsic factor or the stomach cells that make it. In rare cases, children are born with an inherited disorder (congenital pernicious anemia) that prevents their body from producing intrinsic factor or the receptor in the intestines.
Some children with pernicious anemia do not have symptoms, or they may be mild. Common symptoms of the condition include:
Long-term deficiency of vitamin B12 can cause nervous system damage, including confusion, loss of balance, or numbness or tingling or the hands or feet.
Pernicious anemia is diagnosed through a physical exam and, possibly, other tests, including:
A bone marrow exam may be necessary if the diagnosis is unclear. After all tests are completed, doctors will be able to outline the best treatment options.
Ellis Neufeld, MD, talks about giving children with serious blood disorders a chance for a normal life.