I have recently been diagnosed with Pernicious Anaemia. When I say recent , I mean 2 weeks ago. It still feels strange to say it. Feels weird to recognise that I have a condition that will never go away and requires lifelong treatment. I never imagined such a thing affecting me and, as many others admit when diagnosed with anything serious…I thought things like this happened to other people.
So as it’s a fairly recent diagnosis I’ve had my head buried in books and my fingers flying over the keyboard doing extensive and in-depth research. Some pages I don’t want to read…I come back to them later when I’m feeling a bit more positive. I think I’m a bit sick of reading now. I’m not finding what I’m looking for. There are no articles or papers on the subject that say ‘but don’t worry, you’ll be fine’. Thats what I want to hear. Even though I don’t believe it….yet.
I’m finding the nomenclature a difficult one to explain to friends and family. It seems when people hear the word ‘anaemia‘ they throw random (slightly ignorant to be fair, but through no fault of theirs!) comments at me like, ‘oh so you just need iron tablets, you’ll be right as rain’ or ‘you want to get some steak/spinach/raw liver (!!) down you, that’ll sort it’.
The first thing I try to explain when telling someone what I’m dealing with here is that Pernicious Anaemia (PA) is NOT the same thing as iron-deficiency anaemia. Its entirely different in fact. PA occurs not through lack of iron or haemoglobin, but as a result of Vitamin B12 deficiency.
This is no ordinary vitamin. It’s the largest and most complex of all the B vitamins and is absolutely essential for life. It is essential for the production of red blood cells, DNA synthesis and the functioning of the brain and nervous system. It’s actually necessary for the metabolism of EVERY cell in the body. Without it you die, so, lucky I didn’t find this out some 50+ years ago before some clever people figured out how to inject the stuff straight into your system! So why can’t I just eat a healthy diet of vitamin B12-rich foods, or take supplements?
There are different ways to develop PA. One route is by a B12 deficient diet. So…great! Eat as much meat, eggs, dairy – great dietary sources of B12, as you can get your hands on. Or get down to the local health food store and buy bucketloads of supplements to throw down your neck. It’s fine, you can’t possibly overdose on the stuff, any excess is simply excreted in the normal way. So thats that sorted. What about the other kind? The kind I’ve been diagnosed with.
The ‘other’ kind is a bit more complicated. The other kind is B12 deficiency that, no matter how much meat, eggs and dairy I eat and no matter how many supplements I knock back, cannot be cured this way. The reason being that my body will not accept B12 via the normal route. As I mentioned earlier B12 is a large vitamin and in order to be absorbed into the body it needs to form a complex with a substance called Intrinsic Factor. This is secreted by the Gastric Parietal Cells (GPC’s) lining the gut, under normal circumstances. With the kind of PA I have however, the GPC’s are unable to secrete the Intrinsic Factor as they are under attack from my own antibodies. My PA is an autoimmune disease. I already suffer from another autoimmune condition which is vitiligo. This is where my antibodies attack the cells which provide melanin in my skin resulting in white patches that will never colour by way of a suntan. However this doesn’t affect my health – it just requires a very high sun block factor when out in the sun!
My antibodies attacking my GPC‘s though? Thats a problem. The term ‘pernicious‘ actually means ‘fatal’ or ‘deadly’ for a reason. It used to be! Luckily, treatment is as simple as injecting B12 directly into a muscle (e.g. upper arm, thigh) a couple of times a week or a couple of months until levels are acceptable and then maintaining these levels with 3 monthly top-ups. Thats the good news…