Scurvy

(Vitamin C Deficiency; Scorbutus)

Definition

Scurvy 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.
Gingivitis
Gingivitis
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Causes

Scurvy is typically caused by a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables or foods fortified with vitamin C.

Risk Factors

The following factors increase your chance of developing scurvy:

Symptoms

Symptoms include:
  • Weakness
  • Paleness
  • 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
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased heart rate
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Aching and swelling in joints
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue

Diagnosis

Scurvy 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.

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Treatment

The 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

Prevention

To 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.

RESOURCES

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
http://familydoctor.org

American Society for Nutrition
http://www.nutrition.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Dietitians of Canada
http://www.dietitians.ca

Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

References

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.

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