(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. Scurvy is rare in the United States and occurs most commonly in malnourished older adults and chronic alcoholics.
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 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
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.
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
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 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.
Last reviewed December 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.