(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. 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.


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Causes    TOP

Scurvy is typically caused by a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables or foods fortified with vitamin C.

Risk Factors    TOP

The following factors increase your chance of developing scurvy:

Symptoms    TOP

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    TOP

Scurvy may be suspected during a physical exam, based on an analysis of symptoms and diet. Your doctor will order a blood test to measure the level of vitamin C in the blood to confirm the diagnosis. To look for any specific problems the scurvy, such as bone disease, in infants and children may have an x-ray done.

Treatment    TOP

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. You can increase vitamin C levels by:

  • Eating a diet rich in citrus fruits, other fruits, and vegetables
  • Taking vitamin C supplements

Prevention    TOP

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:
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Updated April 27, 2010. Accessed November 16, 2015.
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.
Last reviewed November 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 12/20/2014

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