A b12 serum level can’t tell you how a patient is feeling, only the patient can, but why is no one listening?

Is your doctor allowing you to sink or swim?

How are you feeling? Are your symptoms improving? Do you need more frequent B12 injections……? These questions are very rarely asked of B12 deficient patients regarding their treatment. Too many patients remain ‘seen’ but not heard. Never heard.

Why has the medical establishment become so averse to listening to B12 deficient patients?  To treating symptoms and to acknowledging this fundamental nutritional requirement?  Why are we not offered the same listening ear as those with other conditions might be?

The patient is ALWAYS the expert on how they are feeling, not some serum B12 level or any maintenance guidelines which bear no relationship to the patient experience.

lifeboy-b12

Loss of a great relationship  

Any visit to the doctors can be an ordeal. You may be feeling, vulnerable, tearful, in pain, stressed, anxious and not wanting to waste the doctor’s time. But, the incredibly healing benefit of just ten minutes of really being heard, experiencing kindness and compassion and having a plan of action, is profound. We leave knowing our doctor is trying to help us. That ten minutes being reassured and cared for creates a phenomenal level of trust.

B12 deficient patients, in many cases, experience a completely different relationship with their doctor when requesting an increased frequency of B12 injections, finding that a couple of weeks after their injection their debilitating symptoms are back with a vengeance.

The very same Doctor who helped them through rough times, cared for them through pregnancy or trauma can become distant, defensive, unfeeling and even angry.  It’s as if an invisible wall is built,  eye contact is limited, and communication is almost strangulated. The usual empathy may be replaced by flippant, incorrect comments about B12 being a placebo, that B12 deficiency is ‘over diagnosed’ that people want too much, get addicted to it and that there is no evidence to suggest that it actually makes a difference! 

There’s an inability on the part of some GP’s to demonstrate compassion or understanding for a patient who is struggling to function on three monthly injections. The current situation means that some patients are able to function for only 8 weeks out of 52.  Many GP’s are refusing to treat symptoms, whilst concern with B12 serum blood levels takes precedence over common sense. Ignoring how the patient feels can lead to feelings of confusion, anger, desperation, and fear. What are they supposed to do?

Patient’s who are in pain, exhausted and confused need more B12, not less – but this fact is not understood by those who should be caring for us.

This ‘new’ attitude from the GP may cause fractures in, or even a complete death of their previous good relationship. For those patients who feel they’ve upset their doctor by asking for more B12 or who fail to articulate what they need it may mean that they will try to struggle on alone. This is a shocking and intolerable situation for a patient who previously had an excellent relationship with someone they completely trusted to care for them.

What usually happens in the UK ….

In the main GPs prescribe loading doses (6 injections over two weeks) and then automatically place patients onto three monthly injection regime regardless of the severity of their symptoms. This is very often done without discussion with the patient – in fact without any kind of consultation whatsoever. It might be a nurse who delivers this information and who sticks rigidly to the exact date three months later for the next injection. It is not uncommon for patients who try to have their injection a couple of days early only to be turned away distraught.

This situation can leave the patient bewildered about why their inexpensive injections are rationed, knowing their lack can cause widespread, permanent damage. This condition is so simple and easy to treat but B12 is withheld due to lack of education.

Patients restricted to 3 monthly injections are commonly offered strong painkillers, Gabapentin, amitriptyline, and other antidepressants, all manner of symptom modifying drugs in place of the vitamin needed to repair their nerves.  There’s something seriously wrong when a GP insists on exploring dementia in a symptomatic patient in their 40’s, rather than treating a B12 level which is just within range.

Retesting serum levels

Once a patient is being treated with B12 injections, it does make sense to check the serum B12 level in the beginning to confirm that the patient is responding to treatment. If there is a good response then no further testing is required. Continual retesting of serum levels prior to an injection (and in some cases just a few days after) is a total waste of time and money and it’s clear that some GP’s are mistakenly using a ‘within range’ result as a reason to stop B12 injections.

The sole reliance on B12 serum levels to decide whether a patient is well or not is entirely illogical given that many patients with a B12 level up in the 1000’s may still be experiencing incredibly painful and debilitating symptoms. They may be suffering from a failing memory, an inability to walk, to stay awake and terrible anxiety.

A high serum B12 level post injection is not showing any toxicity, it is also no indication of the level of nerve repair but repeatedly patients are told:

‘your levels are too high’,
‘we need to stop your injections until they come back down’
‘you no longer need B12……..’

There is a genetic problem which is thankfully highlighted by the NHS – ‘functional B12 deficiency,’  it would be helpful if our GP’s were all made aware of this;

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Anaemia-vitamin-B12-and-folate-deficiency/Pages/Causes.aspx 

‘Some people can experience problems related to a vitamin B12 deficiency, despite appearing to have normal levels of vitamin B12 in their blood. This can occur due to a problem known as functional vitamin B12 deficiency – where there is a problem with the proteins that help transport vitamin B12 between cells. This results in neurological complications involving the spinal cord’.

B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, the vast majority of the injection is excreted via the bowel and bladder within 24 hours. B12 has to be replaced frequently in order to aid recovery of the myelin sheath. Serum levels can remain high for up to four months, this does not mean there is an accessible reservoir of B12 sloshing around the body.

If your GP or nurse continually suggest retesting your B12 levels, ask why? And feel free to refuse unless there is any clinical need. You will be saving your blood and your time and that of your practice too.

• A very high serum B12 level without any supplementation obviously requires investigation and I often wonder if this is where our GP’s are getting mixed up?

Superior treatment for other conditions, a stark contrast 

If you are a diabetic patient, the overwhelming difference in the level of care is plain to see. You will be checked, monitored, consulted. You’ll have regular retinopathy and foot checks. You may be assigned a specialist diabetic nurse and you will be asked how you feel.

You will not have restricted medication, you will be taught and trusted to self inject, and you may even be sent on courses to learn about your condition.

In stark contrast, the majority of B12 deficient patients are discriminated against whilst requiring exactly the same care. All clinicians need to grasp the fact that B12 deficiency is a real and serious condition.

One size treatment cannot possibly fit all

As many of us know and feel keenly, four injections per year cannot correct the body’s starvation of B12, just as only four buckets of water a year wouldn’t help a tree in drought and only four breaths of air wouldn’t help a deep sea diver. One size cannot possibly fit all for many medical treatments.

Reports of widespread pain, poor memory, poor mental health, balance problems, deafening tinnitus, fatigue, and incontinence are totally ignored as if the patient is totally mistaken about the state of their own health. If they happen to have existing diagnoses of fibromyalgia, depression, CFS, diabetes (etc) or they’re menopausal or even a new mum – their symptoms may be attributed to these conditions instead of being recognised as under treatment of B12 deficiency.

B12 injections are safe, life saving, non-toxic and inexpensive. There is no clinical evidence for this restricted regime, it is entirely based upon cost saving audits.

Bizarre letters stop B12 treatment

You can see the situation which affects so many patients from this letter below. These letters which stop vital B12 treatment, are randomly sent out and are expected to be met with compliance despite the fact that without any solid evidence or consultation, it has been decided the patient can miraculously absorb and utilise B12.

tracey letter

The statement “Evidence has come to light that in many cases B12 injections are given too easily, or are inadvertently continued after the loading dose injections.” is ludicrous.

I hope that recipients of these letters ask to see the source of this ‘evidence’ and I wonder what it is. The idea that B12 injections are ‘given too easily’ is a bizarre comment given that so many patients probably feel that completing the Krypton Factor, running ten miles through quicksand whilst wearing high heels two sizes too small, might be an easier challenge than ‘qualifying’ for an essential vitamin injection.

There may be some odd formula for sending out these letters – there is no clue as to why this practice have decided the patients can now absorb B12, what test they used. Perhaps a mistaken reliance upon post injection serum B12 levels to determine that patients have enough B12 and are now ‘cured’ – perhaps even picking names out of a hat?

They state “we need to prove that people cannot absorb the carrier across the stomach membrane.”  The sentence itself doesn’t make sense. What is the ‘carrier’? Do they really believe that by simply telling the patient “You are one of a cohort of patients who have been tested and should be able to absorb B12” the job is done?  They are placing the onus on the patient to prove they can’t absorb B12 without any discussion whatsoever.

There seems to be a movement towards only treating patients who are confirmed to have pernicious anaemia, (this may be what this letter is about). This is totally ridiculous given the many causes for B12 deficiency. Each is serious and each requires treatment by injection unless the deficiency is of proven dietary lack. The reality is that the test for pernicious anaemia (Intrinsic Factor antibody) has low sensitivity resulting in many false negatives. This information escapes too many GP’s.

The sad fact is that some who receive these letters will believe what is written – or may not have the strength to fight for their health.

Deterioration caused by B12 deficiency is slow and insidious, it takes a while to repair the fatty coating of the nerves (myelin sheath). Six injections over two weeks cannot possibly reverse all the damage in every patient even though we all wish they could.

Me and millions of others would be ecstatic to find that suddenly we really could absorb B12 simply because we received a letter saying so – but this letter and all the others like it are complete poppycock, not to mention harmful. As usual in B12 deficiency, the PATIENT IS NEVER CONSULTED, everything is decided without their input.

Oral supplementation for patients who cannot absorb B12 from food would be a futile exercise. We urgently need our clinicians to understand that this can lead to permanent neurological damage, raising serum levels but allowing deterioration to continue.

This letter states that: “If you are taking folic acid then it’s important to take vitamin B supplement to prevent damage” the author is apparently ignorant of the harm that will follow without B12 injections.

The one sensible statement included in the letter is that vitamin B12 “is water soluble and therefore not dangerous to take in excess,” very refreshing.

It is vital that all primary care doctors, nurses ,midwives and specialists in all areas of medicine are educated about the seriousness of B12 deficiency and the fundamentals of nutrition.

If our doctors are unable to feel that they can take clinical responsibility for frequent B12 injections (even though this is what is stated in both BNF and NICE Guidelines) then it becomes even more urgent that UK patients are able to buy injectable B12 over the counter in order to look after their own health.

Isolation and hopelessness

There are many things that patients who are B12 deficient can’t understand about the way they are treated once they become diagnosed with vitamin B12 deficiency.

Of course some doctors do treat their patients correctly and fully support individualised treatment. For the rest, B12 is restricted and the battle for treatment begins in those who have the strength and/or the support of loved ones.

Some patients believe their GP is correct when told that too much B12 would be harmful.  Others feel forced to accept the situation because their partner or family member insists the GP must know best, finding themselves totally isolated and without hope.

Nobody wants to have to fight for health especially when they are on their knees, mentally and physically.

If you are a patient who needs more B12 and face the challenge of requesting this, taking somebody with you to the doctors for support can be invaluable. Just a squeeze of a hand and reassurance that you are not alone can make the world of difference when trying to communicate how you feel in pleading your case. Writing down what you need to say will help you to remember all your points. The NHS constitution may be a useful tool to help in accessing better treatment for UK readers.

The very least a patient can expect is to be listened to and taken seriously. Ensuring that this happens would make the job of the GP easier and their overall workload lighter, saving the NHS millions. It would be interesting to know just how many appointments are taken up by undiagnosed or under treated B12 deficient patients. Now there’s a research project worth carrying out.

Are you in a situation where you are not being heard and feel isolated? Please don’t give up, join this fantastic support group where you will find help from so many members in the same boat.

REMEMBER this is your life, your health and YOU MATTER. You are the expert on how YOU feel, no one else.

Are you a doctor reading this, do you know how we feel?

How would you cope with your job, family, home if for  only 44 weeks out of 52 you were unable to function? Can you give us your side of the story? Anonymously?

If you can, please email in confidence to tracey@b12deficiency.info.

www.b12deficiency.info Twitter – @B12info Facebook

 

‘The tank’s empty but I can smell petrol so you have 90 days more driving ahead of you’ …..

If this advice were given by a garage we’d know they were kidding –  but a similar instruction is given in the UK to too many B12 deficient patients regarding their treatment.

NICE and BNF Guidelines advocate a maintenance dose for patients with neurological symptoms is one injection every two months. This is very often ignored and a move straight to a three monthly maintenance dose (after a 6 injection loading dose), is the norm. This is based on NO CLINICAL EVIDENCE whatsoever yet it appears to be set in stone.

I have spent quite some time trying to find the research for the bizarre idea that four B12 injections per year as a maintenance dose is ‘optimal treatment’, since this restricted regime harms those who are in dire need of a nutrient their systems are starved of. The term ‘optimal treatment’ is used to describe our quarterly maintenance dose in a series of GP audits which I blogged about earlier this year.
It was decided that district nurses time could be saved by lessening the frequency of B12 injections given, so this was eventually adopted nationally without any care for the patient. Our UK maintenance dose guidelines are based on cash saving exercises.

At the end of this blog post are the replies I have from various agencies; NHS England, Public Health England, Health Select Committee, British National Formulary, NICE, to the question;

“Please can you show me the clinical evidence which states that the three monthly maintenance dosage for B12 deficiency is optimal treatment.”

You will see that everybody addressed passes the buck and thinks that someone else has this elusive information which so many doctors adhere to. The emails take a circular route which, of course, yield no result whatsoever since there is no clinical evidence.

In a letter to my MP, Sir Bruce Keogh of NHS England stated “Most patients respond well to quarterly injections”, but where is his source?

It’s quite obvious that a great many patients do extremely badly on 3 monthly injections. Patients who email me with the subject line; ’Desperate’, ‘please help’ or ‘Am I going mad?’  And the 1000’s of members of online support groups are also testament to this.

A serum B12 level can show as ‘within range’ for weeks or even months after a single B12 injection or even a single oral supplement.  This can fool doctors into thinking there is plenty of B12 circulating and available to draw upon when, in reality, there isn’t any B12 available to the patient.

If you want to understand the complexities of B12 deficiency then this document on the enterohepatic circulation of B12 will help.

This is what Kevin Byrne (author of the above) states –

“The problem arises when you start to believe that the damage accruing from a long term deteriorative process can be fixed with a handful of injections, and when you take serum levels as a direct measure of the functioning of a distant, complex organic process.”

Many clinicians do not understand that;

• When a B12 injection is given, the majority is excreted via the bladder & bowel within 24 hours.
• B12 is water-soluble, non toxic & costs pennies.
• Progression of nerve damage is inevitable in patients who are starved of B12.
• B12 is vital for life, is required to produce healthy red blood cells and for DNA synthesis.

Both patients and clinicians are being led up the garden path;

The vast majority of GP’s are not fully educated on this very common, debilitating condition and they think they are advising patients correctly based on the limited information they were taught.

There are enlightened doctors who know that 3 monthly injections are a tortuous proposition for many patients they see and they treat appropriately by symptoms.

Worryingly there are also doctors who are informed, who want to treat patients appropriately but feel their hands are tied, either by their colleagues or by even more restrictive ’practice guidelines’ which appear to take precedence over National Guidelines. Or, these doctors are terrified of being reported to the GMC for ‘unusual prescribing’, quite bizarre when what we are discussing is a non toxic essential vitamin.

Evidence of this clinical evidence is nowhere to be found, It simply does not exist. It is a myth generated to save time and money and has had the opposite effect, costing the NHS and in turn society, millions if not billions of pounds. This is due to the inevitable misdiagnoses that occur when doctors fail to understand that four injections a year will never be enough to heal damaged nerves in many patients.

Trying to put a forest fire out with a teaspoon of water would be just as futile.

What other group of patients with a serious debilitating condition would be subjected to the same illogical and harmful treatment regime?

Whilst the vast majority of clinicians lack up to date knowledge of B12 deficiency & whilst treatment of this condition remains so illogically and harmfully restrictive, it becomes even more essential for patients to be able to access injectable B12 over the counter in the UK.

Patients don’t want more injections than they need, they just want to be able to function and get on with life. It is time once again, to shine a very bright light on exactly why UK patients are kept chronically ill and unable to work on this ridiculously low frequency, based on no clinical evidence whatsoever.

If you are in the UK, you can help by sharing this information with your MP and by asking them to contact my MP, Nicky Morgan (nicky.morgan.mp@parliament.uk) so that they can work together on this urgent issue.

Many thanks Tracey
www.b12deficiency.info

Emails below;

To: Health Committee <HEALTHCOM@parliament.uk> (Dr Sarah Wollaston)
Subject: Re: Clinical evidence for B12 treatment

Dear Victoria

Thank you for your email and the link. However you misunderstood my question. I am asking for “clinical evidence” not “clinical guidelines”.
Please can you point me in the direction of the clinical evidence that states that a three monthly maintenance dose of a 1ml b12 injection is optimal treatment for B12 deficiency? I recall Sarah stating to one of her constituents that she is aware of this evidence.

Best wishes
Tracey
www.b12deficiency.info

Health Select committee (Dr Sarah Wollaston)

<HEALTHCOM@parliament.uk> wrote:

Dear Tracey

I have asked Sarah’s office but unfortunately between us all we can’t track this information, you will need to contact NHS England/Department of Health.

Sorry I couldn’t help.

Best wishes

Victoria

Public Health England;

Hi

Thanks for your email to Public Health England. This falls outside our remit, however we are unsure who you should approach. It might be something NHS England can help you with.

Regards

PHE Enquiries.

NHS England:

Dear Tracey

Thank you for your email of 8 August within which you requested information about the clinical evidence regarding the two and three monthly maintenance doses for B12 deficiency.

NHS England is unable to advise regarding this matter and it is recommended you contact National Institute for health and Care Excellence. Contact details are available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance
Further information regarding B!2 can be reviewed at: https://www.nice.org.uk/search?q=b12

I am sorry I am unable to assist you further and trust the information above is sufficient to progress your enquiry.

NICE;
(Please note I cut a whole load of this enormous email out to save you falling asleep – It was the text from the page highlighted)

Dear Tracey

Thank you for contacting NICE.

NICE produces a range of guidance and information products, including clinical guidelines, which are recommendations on how healthcare and other professionals should care for people with specific conditions. Our clinical guideline topics are referred to us by the NHS England. I can confirm that we have not been asked to develop a guideline relating to the care of people with B12 deficiency.

I believe that the resource that you have located is clinical knowledge summary (CKS) on Anaemia – B12 and folate deficiency. CKS are developed by an external company and we work with the publisher to make them available on the NICE Evidence Services website, as a source of advice for health professionals working in primary care, while they may refer to NICE guidance (if there is any that is relevant), they also use many other sources. It is important to note that they do not constitute NICE guidance.

The evidence behind the recommendations in the CKS is presented underneath the recommendations under a subheading ‘Basis for recommendation’. I hope this is helpful.

Kind regards
Janet

(I didn’t find it helpful obviously, they point towards lots of journals who don’t have the evidence we require and to the BNF; here is their response below; )

BNF British National Formulary

Thank you for your email to BNF Publications.

Unfortunately we are unable to access our archives to check what evidence base was used to determine the 3 monthly dosage of hydroxocobalamin.

BNF content will be reviewed in line with the SPCs for future updates of the BNF.

Kind regards,

BNF Publications

You will see from my previous blog on this subject that I also asked all the Marketing Authorisation holders  who provide injectable B12 in the UK where their evidence for the three monthly maintenance dose came from and each of them drew a blank too.

http://www.b12deficiency.info/blog/2016/02/16/uk-b12-deficient-patients-paltry-3-monthly-maintenance-dose-of-b12-injections-is-based-on-cash-not-care/