B12 deficiency: Two warning signs on the head and ears that you are lacking the nutrient

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

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If you have had an ileostomy, which is where the small intestine is diverted through an opening in the abdomen (i.e. a stoma), bodily waste is collected in a special bag which would otherwise pass through the large intestine and through the rectum. Such a procedure is needed to allow the small intestine time to heal after it has either been operated on, or if inflammation needs to calm down. One such complication of the procedure, however, is developing a vitamin B12 deficiency.

The experts at the NHS explained: “Some people who have had an ileostomy will experience a gradual decrease in their levels of vitamin B12.

“This decrease is thought to occur because the part of the intestine removed during the procedure is responsible for absorbing some vitamin B12 from the food you eat.”

Falling levels of vitamin B12 will lead to pernicious anaemia, which may present itself as symptoms experienced in the head and ears.

To elaborate further, the NHS pointed out that headaches and tinnitus are possible symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Tinnitus is when you hear ringing, whooshing, or hissing sounds that are not actually from the outside world.

Other warning signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency might include:

  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Breathlessness
  • Feeling faint
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Loss of appetite.

“If you have had an ileostomy and experience any of these symptoms, contact your GP,” the NHS experts recommended.

“They’ll be able to arrange a blood test to check your vitamin B12 levels.”

Left untreated, depleted vitamin B12 stores can lead to “more serious problems with your nervous system”.

Examples of more serious complications include memory loss and damage to the spinal cord.

Treatment for a vitamin B12 deficiency is considered “straightforward”, which most likely involves taking regular B12 supplements.

Whether vitamin B12 will be taken orally or injected is down to a doctor’s medical discretion.

Why is vitamin B12 so vital for your health?

Vitamin B12 is needed for the healthy development of red blood cells and, without it, red blood cells are unable to function properly.

Red blood cells carry oxygen around the body, so if they are deformed, less oxygen is circulated around the body, leading to bigger health issues.

If you are diagnosed with a vitamin B12 deficiency, treatment might be lifelong.

There are other possible complications of an ileostomy, including dehydration.

Dehydration may occur as the large intestine plays an important role in absorbing water from food waste.

Not drinking enough fluids may lead to kidney stones and even kidney failure.

Moreover, retail discharge following an ileostomy may have a clear “egg white” or sticky, glue-like consistency.

If you see any signs of blood or pus in the rectal discharge, it could be a sign of infection, so you need to contact your doctor straight away.

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