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by Kohnle D
(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 . 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.

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, 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
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased heart rate
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Aching and swelling in joints
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue

Diagnosis

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.

Treatment

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

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  https://www.canada.ca 

References

Vitamin C deficiency. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  https://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.

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