Scurvy: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Written By: Dr. Ann Mary Joyce

Dr Ann Mary Joyce is a General Practitioner in the Department of Internal Medicine at the Medcare Orthopaedics and Spine Hospital. She completed her MBBS and then MD in Family Medicine from the Christian Medical College Hospital at Vellore in India.  She is a member of the Indian Medical Association and also of the Academy of Family Physicians of India

Updated On:February 14, 2024

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What is Scurvy?

A severe vitamin C deficiency is the root cause of the disease scurvy. The key factor causing the condition is a lack of fruit and vegetable consumption. Scurvy, if left untreated, can cause bleeding gums, loose teeth, and skin bruising. Getting a lot of vitamin C in your diet is part of the treatment for the illness. There are other dietary supplements available.

Causes of Scurvy

Scurvy can be brought on by a severe shortage of vitamin C in your diet for at least three months. Consuming insufficient amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables is one cause of this deficit.

Your body needs more vitamin C when certain situations are present. If you have any of the following conditions, you need more vitamin C and run the danger of deficiency if you don't obtain enough:

Symptoms of Scurvy

Symptoms  of Scurvy in Adults

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that promotes collagen production and iron absorption in the body. The body will begin to break down tissues if not enough collagen is produced. Moreover, it is important for the synthesis of the energy-producing hormones dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and carnitine.

After 8 to 12 weeks, signs of a vitamin C shortage may appear. Appetite loss, weight loss, exhaustion, irritability, and lethargy are some of the early symptoms.

In 1-3 months, there might be indications of:

  • Anemia
  • Pain, includes discomfort in the bones, swelling, or edema,
  • Petechiae or tiny red patches brought on by blood under the skin
  • Brittle hairs
  • Slow wound healing
  • Breathing difficulties,
  • Alterations in mood and depression
  • Gum disease and tooth loss

Symptoms  of Scurvy in Children

Scurvy symptoms in infants and children may include the following:

  • Irritability
  • Moving causes pain
  • No desire
  • Not gaining weight
  • Anemia

When to see a doctor for Scurvy?

Seek medical help if you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above. Depending on the cause of your scurvy in the first place, your doctor might also advise you to consult a specialist for treatment, advice, or support. They may also test for other vitamin deficits. In order to prevent a relapse, you'll want to ensure that the root problem has been addressed.

Scurvy Risk Factors

Babies, kids, and elderly people who don't get enough vitamin C in their diets are most frequently affected by scurvy. The following are risk factors for developing the condition:

  • Not being able to access fresh produce
  • Eating very little because of an eating disorder (such as anorexia) or medical procedures that make you feel ill, such as chemotherapy
  • Smoking, which limits how much vitamin C your body can absorb from diet
  • Having a diet-related drug or alcohol addiction
  • Bad dietary habits during pregnancy or when nursing
  • Restriction of one's diet or food sensitivities
  • Several other illnesses, including type 1 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease.

Scurvy Diagnosis

Scurvy might be identified by your doctor depending on your symptoms. They'll examine you physically and determine your risk for the ailment depending on a few criteria.

To assess the level of vitamin C in your blood, your doctor may ask for a blood test. They might also carry out a procedure known as a dermoscopy. In this operation, a biopsy of the skin or hair that is affected will be taken and examined under a microscope.

Scurvy Treatment

Treatment for scurvy is necessary to prevent future problems. By ingesting additional vitamin C, the disease is easily cured. A balanced diet that includes one to two times the daily recommended quantity of vitamin C is something you should attempt to maintain. You can achieve this by including fresh produce in each meal.

Until you feel better, your doctor may also advise taking a vitamin C supplement. Children who have scurvy can take a supplement daily in doses up to 300 mg. Adults may consume 500 mg to 1000 mg.

Scurvy Complications

If untreated, scurvy could lead to more serious symptoms. They may consist of the following:

  • Anemia
  • Gums that are swollen, bleeding, and may even turn purple and spongy
  • Teeth that are loose and could fall out
  • Having internal bleeding (skin hemorrhages)
  • Bruised skin is easily
  • Scaly, rough skin
  • Enlarged legs
  • Opening of new, non-healing wounds as well as already healed ones
  • Hair that coils up like a corkscrew is dry and brittle

 Scurvy Prevention

By consuming the appropriate daily dose of vitamin C in your diet, you can avoid scurvy. Fresh fruits and vegetables are the best suppliers of the vitamin. Vitamin C-rich foods include:

  • Fruit with citrus
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Strawberries
  • Savory peppers

Before ingesting a vitamin C dietary supplement, see your doctor.

References

Callus, C. A., Vella, S., & Ferry, P. (2018). Scurvy is back. Nutrition and Metabolic Insights11, 1178638818809097.

Levavasseur, M., Becquart, C., Pape, E., Pigeyre, M., Rousseaux, J., Staumont-Sallé, D., & Delaporte, E. (2015). Severe scurvy: an underestimated disease. European journal of clinical nutrition69(9), 1076-1077.

Olmedo, J. M., Yiannias, J. A., Windgassen, E. B., & Gornet, M. K. (2006). Scurvy: a disease almost forgotten. International journal of dermatology45(8), 909-913.

Popovich, Debbie, Allison McAlhany, Abimbola O. Adewumi, and Marilyn McKim Barnes. "Scurvy: forgotten but definitely not gone." Journal of Pediatric Health Care 23, no. 6 (2009): 405-415.

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