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Megaloblastic (Pernicious) Anemia

What is megaloblastic anemia?

Megaloblastic anemia is a type of anemia characterized by very large red blood cells. In addition to the cells being large, the inner contents of each cell are not completely developed. This malformation causes the bone marrow to produce fewer cells, and sometimes the cells die earlier than the 120-day life expectancy. Instead of being round or disc-shaped, the red blood cells can be oval.

What causes megaloblastic anemia?

Megaloblastic anemia is more common in individuals of northern European descent. While there are several types of megaloblastic anemia, the condition is caused by one of the following:

  • folate (a type of B vitamin) deficiency
  • vitamin B-12 deficiency caused by a lack of intrinsic factor in gastric (stomach) secretions – intrinsic factor is necessary for absorption of vitamin B-12

The type of anemia in which a lack of intrinsic factor occurs is called pernicious anemia. The inability to make intrinsic factor may be the result of several factors, such as chronic gastritis, gastrectomy (removal of all or part of the stomach), or an autoimmune condition (the body attacks its own tissues). Other types of megaloblastic anemia may be associated with type 1 diabetes, thyroid disease, and a family history of the disease.

Treatment for megaloblastic anemia:

Specific treatment for megaloblastic anemia will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference