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(Vitamin C Deficiency; Scorbutus)
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 . In children, it can cause bone loss and fractures. Scurvy is rare in the United States and occurs most commonly in malnourished older adults and chronic alcoholics.
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Scurvy is typically caused by a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables or foods fortified with vitamin C.
The following factors increase your chance of developing scurvy:
- A limited or 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 , and Whipple disease
- A fad diet
- Self-imposed restrictive diets for weight loss or due to food allergies
- Sunken eyes
- Tender, swollen 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
Scurvy may be suspected during a physical exam, based on an analysis of symptoms and diet. A doctor will order a blood test to measure the level of vitamin C in the blood to confirm the diagnosis. Infants and children may have x-rays done to look for specific problems from scurvy, such as bone disease.
The treatment for scurvy is simple and effective. To eliminate symptoms and make a full recovery, begin vitamin C replacement until symptoms resolve and then take recommended amounts of vitamin C. Vitamin C levels can be increased by:
- Eating a diet rich in citrus fruits, other fruits, and vegetables
- Taking vitamin C supplements
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.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
American Society for Nutrition
Dietitians of Canada
Vitamin C deficiency. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115249/Vitamin-C-deficiency . Updated April 27, 2010. Accessed November 7, 2017.
Weinstein M, Babyn P, Zlotkin S. An orange a day keeps the doctor away: scurvy in the year 2000. Pediatrics. 2001 Sep;108(3):E55.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN
- Review Date: 11/2018
- Update Date: 12/20/2014