A deficiency in vitamin B12 requires supplementation to treat symptoms and return blood serum levels to normal. The two options for treating a B12 deficiency are taking oral supplements in pill form or receiving injections of B12 directly into the muscle.
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If you have a vitamin B12 deficiency, you can develop neurological symptoms, gastrointestinal symptoms or anemia. Some of these symptoms, particularly neurological symptoms, can become irreversible if the deficiency persists over a long time. Elderly people, people with pernicious anemia, strict vegetarians and breastfed babies of vegetarian women are at a higher risk for a vitamin B12 deficiency and might need B12 shots or pills.
People with a vitamin B12 deficiency who receive the intramuscular shot generally begin with a dosage of 100 to 1,000 mcg every day or every other day. After one or two weeks, the frequency is stretched to once a month to once every three months. Oral doses of vitamin B12 begin with a daily pill containing 1,000 to 2,000 mcg taken for one or two weeks. The maintenance dose is 1,000 mcg taken every day for the rest of your life.
A B12 shot can be administered by your doctor during an office visit. A doctor or nurse also can show you how to administer the injection yourself so that you can do it at home using prescribed vitamin B12. Oral doses of this nutrient can be purchased over the counter and taken at home, although you should consult a physician before attempting to treat a vitamin B12 deficiency with oral supplements.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Some people find the B12 shot uncomfortable or painful, so prefer taking a daily pill. While vitamin B12 injections are safe and inexpensive, the cost to have them done by a doctor can significantly add to the cost. Because vitamin B12 absorption by the gut is less effective than a shot directly into muscle, a higher dose is often needed when taken orally. Over-the-counter pills in high enough doses for treatment might be difficult to find, so you might need to take three or more pills to make up your necessary daily dose.
Many physicians are unaware that oral vitamin B12 is an effective substitute for B12 injections in the treatment of deficiencies, according to American Family Physician. No matter which method of treatment is used, follow-up visits to the doctor will be necessary. At these visits, the doctor will measure blood serum levels of B12 and determine whether the current dosage is appropriate.