Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms: Glossitis is a warning sign – what is it?

Dr Dawn Harper on signs of vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiency

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Many older adults acquire an autoimmune condition called pernicious anaemia. Thus, no matter how much red meat, eggs, or chicken is consumed – which is rich in vitamin B12 – a deficiency will still occur. One physical warning sign of a vitamin B12 deficiency is glossitis – otherwise known as a sore and red tongue, the NHS explained.


The tongue will be inflamed and swollen, and it might have a “shiny, red surface”, said Medical News Today.

This is because the small bumps on the surface of the tongue shrink in size, thereby leaving a smooth-like surface.

Severe cases of glossitis can be painful, which may affect the way a person talks or eat.

Other common symptoms of glossitis can include:

  • Burning or itching in the tongue
  • Different colour of the tongue’s surface
  • Difficulty swallowing

A doctor and/or dentist will be able to identify if you have glossitis or not.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) pointed out the other symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency.

This includes extreme tiredness, a lack of energy, pins and needles, mouth ulcers and muscle weakness.

Some people might experience disturbed vision and psychological and memory issues.

Left untreated, symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency can become irreversible.

Health complications include heart conditions, the increased risk of heart failure, and problems with the nervous system.

This is why it’s important to have regular blood tests to check on your overall health.

A quick blood test can demonstrate to your GP whether you need treatment or not.

Treatment usually involves taking injections or tablets, which might be life-long.

What is pernicious anaemia?

“Pernicious anaemia is the most common cause of vitamin B12 deficiency in the UK,” confirmed the NHS.

People in later life tend to develop this autoimmune condition; it involves the immune system attacking healthy cells in the stomach.

These cells would otherwise create an important protein known as intrinsic factor.

Intrinsic factor is needed to bind with vitamin B12 so that the nutrient is reabsorbed into the body when it’s making its way through the gut.

The specific part of the gut that plays a role in the reabsorption of intrinsic factor is known as the distal ileum.

If intrinsic factor can’t be made, then vitamin B12 travels through the gut to then be excreted.

The exact cause behind pernicious anaemia is unknown, but it tends to affect more women than men.

In addition, women of a certain age – around 60 years old – seem to be the most affected.

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