"Doctors Missed The Simple Vitamin Deficiency That Made Me Gravely Ill"
Words: Marianne Eloise and Amber Ascroft
It was April 2018 when Carrie Kay began experiencing a range of seemingly unexplained health issues.
At first, doctors put her mystery symptoms (which included chronic fatigue, nausea, muscle spasms and blurred vision) down to "stress".
But the 37-year-old fashion designer - who was also suffering constant headaches and low moods - had a niggling feeling it was something else.
Despite the ongoing symptoms, Carrie was sent home with antidepressants and anti-sickness tablets for the constant dizziness she was experiencing. It was over a year before doctors confirmed she was struggling with a simple B12 deficiency.
While Carrie's story is horrifying, it's not as rare as you might think; the list of symptoms of B12 deficiency is long and includes many that could be attributed to other conditions, which is one of the reasons it's so hard to detect.
But that could be about to change, with growing numbers of women now going online to share their stories of getting diagnosed and treated.
Having recently appeared on ITV's This Morning to discuss her B12 battle, Carrie is now campaigning for greater awareness of the condition. We spoke to her about her year-long struggle to get diagnosed and treated.
"When my symptoms were at their worst, I couldn't even lift my head off the pillow or feel my legs,' she told Tyla. "My GP said I had vertigo and prescribed anti-sickness tablets and antidepressants, both of which I refused.
"I was scared to be left alone with my one-year-old son in case I collapsed or dropped him. At the same time, I was trying not to let it scare my family and pretended I was fine.
"I honestly thought I'd had an infected stroke or that I was dying - and my doctor was adamant it was gynaecologically related - but all results from countless blood, heart, eye, lung, smear and ultrasound tests came back as 'clear' and I believed them without question.
"It wasn't until I saw a holistic therapist that a B12 deficiency was suggested. She said I had all the symptoms and gave me the printed results of my tests. This was the missing link!"
Carrie added: "After extensive research into the subject, I could see my levels of B12 were at the lowest end. I was also short on ferritin (iron), vitamin D, calcium, magnesium and potassium. However these numbers were still just within the doctor's pre-set ranges so had gone undetected.
"Even after doing a further eight months of my own research to back up my symptoms, my GP simply advised antidepressants again. To be ridiculed and not believed was so upsetting. I saw four male GPs who all blamed post-natal depression.
"I finally decided to seek private treatment and found prescribing pharmacist Melissa Burnley of Invigorate IV in Leeds. Within a few hours of my first injection my vision was back to normal, my six-month headache had lifted. I cried in the car on the way home as I felt 'normal' for the first time in nearly a year."
Speaking about her symptoms, Carried continued: "All of my symptoms have more or less gone although I have injections as and when I feel them coming back. This can vary from weekly to monthly. Stress, over-exercising and alcohol can deplete B12 so if I know I have events or a stressful week, I will book extra injections as a precaution.
"I even give a low oral dose of B12 to my two-year-old son every day and have noticed an improvement in his energy levels and communication.
"I'm in the process of putting a bill forward to The House of Commons to get the B12 level guidelines changed and organising national seminars to educate medical professionals.
"The lack of knowledge by GPs and the general public is failing a silent epidemic of men and women that can easily - and cheaply - be treated with this life-saving vitamin."
What is Vitamin B12?
Speaking to Tyla, GP Dr. Jeff Foster said: "B12 deficiency is actually relatively common. NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) provides details of the prevalence of vitamin B12 deficiency in around 6 per cent in people aged under 60.
"The problem is that as most the symptoms are quite vague it can be hard to know to test for. However, the vast majority of B12 deficiencies are due to diet and are easily treatable.
"Pernicious anaemia is a medical condition that stops the body absorbing the vitamin B12 we eat, and for those people, they require life long injections. The same goes for certain gastric medical problems that stop us absorbing B12.
"However, these are more rare, and the mean onset pernicious anaemia is actually 60. Vitamin B12 is almost exclusively produced by microoganisms.
"Sources include meat, milk, eggs, cheese, yeast extracts and fortified breakfast cereals. Itt is the only vitamin not found in vegetables - hence why vegans struggle and will need to take vitamins."
The symptoms of B12 deficiency include:
- Weakness or fatigue
- Pins and needles (paraesthesia)
- Changes in the way that you walk and move around
- Mouth ulcers
- Changes in the way you walk and move around
- Disturbed vision
- Changes in the way you think, feel and behave (including memory, understanding and judgement)
Featured Image Credit: Unsplash