(Vitamin C Deficiency; Scorbutus)
DefinitionScurvy is a condition caused by an insufficient amount of vitamin C for a prolonged period of time. The condition causes weakness, impaired wound healing, anemia , and gingivitis . Scurvy is rare in the United States and occurs most commonly in malnourished older adults and chronic alcoholics.
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CausesScurvy is typically caused by a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables or foods fortified with vitamin C.
Risk FactorsThe following factors increase your chance of developing scurvy:
- A poor diet, with little or no fruits and vegetables
- Little or no vitamin C in the diet
- Anorexia nervosa
- Poor dental hygiene
- Gastrointestinal diseases (such as malabsorption , inflammatory bowel disease , dyspepsia , Whipple's disease )
- A fad diet
- Self-imposed restrictive diets for weight loss or due to food allergies
- Sunken eyes
- Tender gums and/or tooth loss
- Muscular pain
- Reopening of old wounds or sores
- Loss of appetite
- Bruising easily
- Weight loss; inability to gain weight
- Increased heart rate
- Aching and swelling in joints
- Shortness of breath
DiagnosisScurvy can be diagnosed during a physical exam, based on an analysis of symptoms and diet. Your doctor may order a blood test to measure the level of vitamin C in the blood. To diagnose scurvy in infants and children, an x-ray may be done.
TreatmentThe treatment for scurvy is simple and effective. To eliminate symptoms and make a full recovery, increase vitamin C intake to recommended levels. You can increase vitamin C levels by:
- Eating a diet rich in citrus fruits, other fruits, and vegetables
- Taking vitamin C supplements
PreventionTo help reduce your chances of getting scurvy, take the following steps:
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
- Get a sufficient amount of vitamin C, through diet and/or supplements.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
American Society for Nutrition
Dietitians of Canada
Vitamin C deficiency. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 27, 2010. Accessed December 22, 2014.
Weinstein M, Babyn P, Zlotkin S. An orange a day keeps the doctor away: scurvy in the year 2000. Pediatrics. 2001;108:e55. Pediatrics website. Available at: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/108/3/e55.full.html. Accessed December 22, 2014.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 12/2014
- Update Date: 12/20/2014
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