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Pernicious anemia is a condition where your body cannot absorb enough vitamin B12 from your digestive tract. Without vitamin B12, your body is not able to make the red blood cells that you need to carry oxygen in your body. 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.
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.
Normally, your stomach makes a protein called intrinsic factor (IF). This protein helps your body absorb vitamin B12 in your intestines. When your stomach does not make enough IF, your intestines cannot absorb enough vitamin B12. Your stomach may not make enough IF because your immune system attacks the IF or the cells in the stomach that make it.
If the condition is found 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.
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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