Health Library

Scurvy

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
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

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: 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.