Your Health

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 very 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

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
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
  • Internal bleeding
  • 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.

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

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

Nutrition.gov http://www.nutrition.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES

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

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

References

Clemetson A. Shaken baby or scurvy? General Vaccine Issues. Vaccine Risk Awareness Network website. Available at: http://vran.org/vaccines/sbs/sbs-clemetson.htm. Accessed April 15, 2007.

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 April 15, 2007.

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