Your lymph nodes, located primarily on either side of your neck, under your chin and in your armpits and groin, are usually not noticeable. If yours become swollen, they might indicate either a passing infection or serious chronic disease. Among the nutrients associated with lymphatic abnormalities is B-12, a vitamin that people with limited nutrition and/or older adults might fail to utilize or consume adequately. Abnormal B-12 levels can contribute to or mask an underlying health problem that might be causing your lymph-node symptoms.
Strep throat and ear or tooth infections cause inflammation in the lymph glands, as do measles, mononucleosis and human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. If your lymph nodes are swollen and painful, an infection might be generating symptoms. If a blood test reveals low body levels of vitamin B-12, you might also have pernicious anemia, a form of severe vitamin B-12 deficiency brought on by insufficient stomach acid and intrinsic factor, effects commonly seen in older adults and people infected with HIV.
Immune System Problems
Lymphoma and lymphocytic leukemia are forms of cancer that can affect your lymph nodes and your B-12 levels. If your lymph nodes swell noticeably, but don’t cause pain, the symptom might signal cancer. Additional physical signs of these diseases might include fatigue, weakness and weight loss -- symptoms shared with pernicious anemia. Cancer can co-exist with unrelated anemia, and lymph-node symptoms of cancer can coincide with related anemia, such as B-12 deficiency that precipitates leukemia.
To determine the source of swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, weight loss and other symptoms, see your physician. A physical exam will evaluate the size of lymph-node swelling and the presence or absence of pain. Glandular lumps that aren’t painful might prompt a bone marrow test for possible cancer. A visual check that affirms abnormal skin and nail color might indicate likely B-12 deficiency. A complete blood count or targeted B-12 blood test might be ordered.
Distinguishing cancer from vitamin-deficiency anemia can be difficult. According to a study in the 2004 “Southern Medical Journal,” B-12 deficiency causes changes in bone marrow that are similar to those seen in acute lymphocytic leukemia. This can confound a preliminary diagnosis. Simply taking extra vitamin B-12 via diet or supplements won’t cure lymph-node symptoms or underlying problems. Only complete testing by your health care provider can determine whether you have swollen lymph nodes from a noncancerous cause that happens to occur at the same time.
- Mayoclinic.com: Swollen Lymph Nodes
- National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: Who Is at Risk for Pernicious Anemia?
- MedlinePlus: Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia
- MedlinePlus: Lymphoma
- American Journal of Gastroenterology: Primary Gastric Lymphoma Presenting With B-12 Deficiency and Achlorhydria
- Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences: Micronutrient Deficiencies -- A Major Cause of DNA Damage
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Anemia Diagnosis
- Southern Medical Journal: Pernicious Anemia -- Presentations Mimicking Acute Leukemia