The pathophysiology of elevated vitamin B12 in clinical practice

QJM. 2013 Jun;106(6):505-15. doi: 10.1093/qjmed/hct051. Epub 2013 Feb 27.


Hypercobalaminemia (high serum vitamin B12 levels) is a frequent and underestimated anomaly. Clinically, it can be paradoxically accompanied by signs of deficiency, reflecting a functional deficiency linked to qualitative abnormalities, which are related to defects in tissue uptake and action of vitamin B12. The aetiological profile of high serum cobalamin predominantly encompasses severe disease entities for which early diagnosis is critical for prognosis. These entities are essentially comprised of solid neoplasms, haematological malignancies and liver and kidney diseases. This review reflects the potential importance of the vitamin B12 assay as an early diagnostic marker of these diseases. A codified approach is needed to determine the potential indications of a search for high serum cobalamin and the practical clinical strategy to adopt upon discovery of elevated cobalamin levels. While low serum cobalamin levels do not necessarily imply deficiency, an abnormally high serum cobalamin level forms a warning sign requiring exclusion of a number of serious underlying pathologies. Functional cobalamin deficiency can thus occur at any serum level.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood
  • Hematologic Diseases / blood
  • Hematologic Diseases / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Liver Diseases / blood
  • Liver Diseases / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / blood
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Transcobalamins / physiology
  • Vitamin B 12 / blood*
  • Vitamin B 12 / physiology
  • Vitamin B 12 Deficiency / diagnosis


  • Biomarkers
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Transcobalamins
  • Vitamin B 12