Scurvy happens when a person does not get enough vitamin C in their diet for a long period of time. It can lead to a number of health problems, such as weakness, poor wound healing, and gum disease. In children, it can weaken bones and lead to fractures.
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Scurvy is caused by a diet that is low in vitamin C. Vitamin C is mainly found in fruits and vegetables. This vitamin is needed to make the collagen needed to form connective tissue. This tissue supports, protects, and gives structure to other tissues and organs in the body. Vitamin C also helps with bone formation.
The main risk factor is having little or no vitamin C sources in a person's diet. This may be more common in older adults who live alone.
Low levels of vitamin C may be linked to:
- Alcohol use disorder
- Illegal drug use
- Following fad diets
- Stricts diet due to severe food allergies
- Having severe Anorexia nervosa
- Mental health problems
- Autism spectrum disorders
Some diseases also cause problems in the way the body absorbs vitamin C. Examples are:
Problems vary from person to person and worsen over time. Problems may be:
- Feeling tired and weak
- Joint and muscle pain
- Swollen, bleeding gums and loose teeth
- Red or blue spots on the skin
- Bruising easily
- Wounds that do not heal
- Mood changes
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. You may also be asked about your diet. This may be enough to suspect scurvy.
Blood tests will be done to check vitamin C levels. X-raysmay be done to look for problems with the bones.
The goal of treatment is to increase vitamin C levels. This can be done with vitamin C supplements.
Dietary changes will need to be made to maintain normal levels of vitamin C.
The risk of this problem can be lowered by eating a healthy, balanced diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables.
American Society for Nutrition
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Léger D. Scurvy: reemergence of nutritional deficiencies. Can Fam Physician. 2008 Oct;54(10):1403-1406.
Vitamin C deficiency. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/vitamin-c-deficiency-14. Accessed February 4, 2021.
Last reviewed December 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN Last Updated: 2/4/2021