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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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 limited or 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, and Whipple disease
- A fad diet
- Self-imposed restrictive diets for weight loss or due to food allergies
- 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
- Increased heart rate
- Aching and swelling in joints
- Shortness of breath
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.
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
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
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.
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN Last Updated: 12/20/2014