Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms: ‘Mobile phone sign’ may signal early stages of condition

Vitamin B12 is best gained through diet – mainly through foods of an animal origin, such as meet eggs and dairy. For this reason, vegans and vegetarians who primarily eat a plant-based diet, may lack the vitamin. Also certain medical conditions, such as pernicious anaemia, can affect a person’s absorption of B12.


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Knowing whether you’re lacking in vitamin B12 can be tricky, but it’s important because if vitamin B12 deficiency develops and is left untreated, serious health complications can develop.

Recognising symptoms of the condition can help, and research suggests a ‘mobile phone sign’ could be an early indicator to watch out for.

An article that appeared in QJM: monthly journal of the Association of Physicians detailed how a patient who was later found to be B12 deficient could no longer feel his mobile phone ‘ring’ when it was in ‘vibration only’ mode in his pocket.

The article reads: “A review of his health failed to reveal any other complaint, except some memory disturbances, which were fairly recent.

“Physical examination was entirely normal, except for a significantly decreased vibration sense.

“Blood tests were notable only for low serum B12 levels (150 pg/ml, normal 222–1132 pg/ml).

“There was no anaemia, no macrocytosis, and no abnormality of the peripheral blood smear.

“The patient had been a strict vegetarian for many years.”

It continues: “He was treated with vitamin B12 injections, which he continues to receive monthly.

“His serum B12 level is currently normal, and he reported that he noticed an improvement in his memory and started to feel the vibrations of his mobile phone again, several weeks after commencing treatment.”

The article concluded this ‘mobile phone sign’ can be used as a subtle early sign of vitamin B12 deficiency, since “diminished vibratory sensation in the lower extremities is a common early finding”.

Other symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include:

  • A pale yellow tinge to your skin
  • A sore and red tongue (glossitis)
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Pins and needles (paraesthesia)
  • Changes in the way that you walk and move around
  • Disturbed vision
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Changes in the way you think, feel and behave
  • A decline in your mental abilities, such as memory, understanding and judgement (dementia)


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When to see a GP

You should see a GP if you think you have vitamin B12 deficiency, advises the NHS.

This can be diagnosed based on your symptoms and the results of a blood test.

The health body adds: “It’s important for vitamin B12 anaemia to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

“While many of the symptoms improve with treatment, some problems caused by the condition can be irreversible.”

How much vitamin B12 do you need?

The UK government advises adults (aged 19 to 64) need about 1.5 micrograms a day of vitamin B12.

The Department of Health and Social Care says you should be able to get all the vitamin B12 you need by eating a varied an balanced diet.

But if you take vitamin B12 supplements, you shouldn’t take too much as it could be harmful.

Taking 2mg or less a day of vitamin B12 in supplements is unlikely to cause any harm.

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