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Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough red blood cells or hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen. Pernicious anemia happens when the body does not have enough of a protein made in the stomach called intrinsic factor (IF). Without enough IF, your digestive tract cannot absorb enough of the vitamin B12 that your body needs to make red blood cells. Normally, you can get enough vitamin B12 from eating foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. If you have pernicious anemia, you do not absorb enough vitamin B12 from your diet, and anemia develops over time.
When you have anemia, your organs may not work properly and you may feel very tired. Untreated pernicious anemia can lead to severe symptoms of anemia, including chest pain, heart failure, and permanent nervous system damage.
The cause of this condition is not known. Pernicious anemia is believed to be an autoimmune disease. When you have an autoimmune disease, your body's defense system (immune system) mistakenly attacks normal cells in your body. With pernicious anemia, the immune system attacks cells that line the inside of the stomach (parietal cells). These cells secrete stomach acids and IF.
If the condition is detected and treatment is started in the early stages, most people do not develop complications. Treatment reverses the condition and prevents future anemia, but it must be continued for life. Having pernicious anemia also puts you at higher risk for stomach cancer.
These symptoms may represent a serious problem that is an emergency. Do not wait to see if the symptoms will go away. Get medical help right away. Call your local emergency services (911 in the U.S.). Do not drive yourself to the hospital.
This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.
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