A 28-year-old female vegetarian was referred to a specialist in internal medicine with persistent iron deficiency. Laboratory analysis revealed microcytic anaemia with low ferritin levels but normal total vitamin B12 levels. The red blood cell distribution width, however, showed a very wide variation in red blood cell sizes, indicating a coexisting vitamin B12 deficiency, which was confirmed by the low concentration of active vitamin B12. Another patient, a 69-year-old woman with a history of previous gastric surgery and renal insufficiency as a complication of diabetes mellitus, was suspected to be deficient in vitamin B12, as she had low total vitamin B12 levels and an accumulation of methylmalonic acid and homocysteine in her blood. Testing the total concentration of vitamin B12 alone has insufficient diagnostic accuracy and no accepted gold standard is available for diagnosing vitamin B12 deficiency. With the development of newer tests, such as measuring holotranscobalamin II (concentration of active vitamin B12), atypical and subclinical deficiency states can be recognized. A new approach to diagnosing vitamin B12 deficiency is presented, based upon these 2 case descriptions.
Conflict of interest: J. Lindemans received financial support from Abbott for scientific presentations; the institution that employs J. Lindemans received financial support from Axis-Shield for scientific presentations. Financial support for this article: none declared.