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What is Macrocytic Anemia?

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  • Written By: Debra Durkee
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2016
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Macrocytic anemia is also known as vitamin B12 deficiency anemia. This type of anemia can be have several causes, from problems in the digestive system to damage done by weight loss surgeries to a vegetarian or vegan diet. For many individuals, taking supplements can help eliminate some of the symptoms of the condition.

Oxygen is carried through the blood stream by red blood cells, which are created with the help of vitamin B12. When there is a lack of this vitamin in the system, the body cannot produce enough red blood cells to keep it healthy and to carry sufficient oxygen through the body. Aside from supplements, vitamin B12 comes from foods such as meat, eggs, fish, and dairy. Poor or insufficient dietary choices are a common cause of macrocytic anemia; many individuals who are vegetarian or vegan do not eat the foods that contain B12 and must take supplements in order to get the required amount of the vitamin.

When there are not enough red blood cells and not enough oxygen being carried through the body, an individual may feel constantly tired, weak and have an overall lack of motivation and energy. He or she may suffer from shortness of breath, a loss of appetite, and an overall feeling of lethargy. Pale skin and bleeding gums are physical signs of the disease, and in cases where it is overlooked, there can be permanent damage to the body.

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Ongoing cases of macrocytic anemia can result in damaged nerve tissues. When this happens, it can cause difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness and other types of dementia and decreased mental capabilities. It can also impair balance and result in numbness in the extremities.

Treatment for macrocytic anemia depends on the cause and the severity of the case. For some, a change in diet or adding B12 supplements to meals can help restore balance and encourage the body to produce enough red blood cells. In other individuals, B12 injections may be given. In most cases, the individual will start out with regular, higher doses of B12 in order to get the body functioning properly. These shots will generally become less frequent as the individual learns to control his or her B12 levels with diet and supplements.

Some individuals develop macrocytic anemia as a result of a malfunction in the digestive system. Some conditions such as celiac disease impact the way nutrients are absorbed into the body, and B12 may pass through the system rather than digesting into it. In these cases, the disease is often treated first; once it is under control, the macrocytic anemia generally disappears as well.

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