Lack of coordination, a feeling of numbness or tingling in your feet or hands, and freezing or burning pain – they’re all symptoms associated with peripheral neuropathy.
This disease happens as the result of nerve damage. A common cause of this damage for many sufferers is a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Learn about how it happens, why vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient, and how neuropathy is treated in this guide.
How Does Vitamin B12 Deficiency Neuropathy Occur?
Vitamin B12 is essential for your body to stay healthy. It helps your nervous system function properly, aids red blood cell production, and is necessary for DNA synthesis.
This vitamin is naturally found in some foods. This mainly includes animal products like meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and dairy products. You can also get vitamin B12 through fortified cereals and nutritional yeast.
Whether you don’t consume enough food products that contain this vitamin, or your body is unable to absorb the amount you do intake, your health will suffer.
Other Causes of Vitamin B12 Neuropathy
There are many reasons why someone may develop neuropathy as a result of vitamin B12 deficiency.
For example, as you get older, your stomach naturally produces less acid that normally aids B12 absorption. As a result, the condition is relatively common in older adults. According to Harvard Health, 3.2% of adults over 50 have a low B12 level, and as many as 20% are borderline deficient.
Many illnesses also can impact your body’s ability to absorb B12 and cause a deficiency. These include autoimmune disorders, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, an HIV infection, diseases of the pancreas, gastritis, and more.
Who Else Is at Risk?
Along with older adults, those at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency neuropathy include:
- People on strict vegetarian or vegan diets
- Those who are taking a medication that inhibits B12 absorption (like an H2 blocker for heartburn or certain drugs for diabetes)
- People who have had weight-loss surgery like stomach stapling
- People with medical conditions that hinder food absorption such as celiac disease
Possible Symptoms of B12 Neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy (also called polyneuropathy) as a result of a B12 deficiency causes symptoms affecting your nerves, including the nerves you need for feeling, movement, digestion, bladder function, and a healthy heart rate.
If your automatic nervous system is affected, your symptoms can include:
- Bladder or bowel problems
- Digestive issues
- Lightheadedness or dizziness caused by changes in your blood pressure
- Intolerance to heat
- Abnormal sweating
- Breathing problems
- Trouble swallowing and eating
If your sensory or motor nerves are affected, you could have the following symptoms:
- Poor coordination, including balance problems or staggering that can cause a fall
- Muscle weakness
- Pain that feels sharp, throbbing, freezing, or burning in affected areas
- Numbness, tingling, or a prickling sensation in your hands or feet, which can spread up into your arms and legs
There are lots of other possible symptoms, too, like anemia, jaundice (yellow-tinged skin), a swollen tongue, memory loss, hallucinations, and more.
How Is This Condition Diagnosed and Treated?
To diagnose neuropathy caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency, your doctor will look at a wide range of factors.
Your medical history, including your family health history, will be considered, and you’ll also get a physical exam so your doctor can review your symptoms. Blood tests will help the doctor check for other possible problems such as diabetes or other nutrient deficiencies. You may also get a neurological evaluation.
For an accurate diagnosis, your doctor may also order a CT scan or MRI to rule out tumors or other problems that could affect your nerve function. They may also conduct electro-diagnosis tests to measure your nerves’ electrical activity.
Treatments for B12 neuropathy will focus on correcting the vitamin deficiency, relieving symptoms, and halting the progression of the disease.
Depending on your type of neuropathy and symptoms, your doctor may prescribe medication, vitamin B12 supplements or injections, medical therapies, or alternative treatments like massage or acupuncture.
One of the main ways to increase your levels of vitamin B12 is to focus on getting enough in your diet through eating meat, dairy products, fish, eggs, and other natural sources.
According to the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy, B12 injections are usually necessary for those who have very low levels.
Many people also choose to take a supplement like Nervestra along with other treatments to help give the body what it needs for healthy nerve function.
How Can You Prevent Neuropathy Caused by a B12 Deficiency?
The main action you can take to prevent this condition is to make sure you get enough B12 in your diet, especially if you avoid meat products and follow a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle.
You should also ensure you limit the factors that can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb B12. This includes avoiding alcohol and managing underlying conditions.
Luckily, neuropathy symptoms – even reversible if caught early enough. For this reason, you should pay attention to your body and check in with your doctor if you notice the onset of any troubling symptoms.