Scurvy is a disease that results from a vitamin C deficiency. It can lead to anemia, exhaustion, spontaneous bleeding, limb pain, swelling, and sometimes ulceration of the gums and loss of teeth.
Scurvy has been known since ancient Greek and Egyptian times.
For example, some people may associate it with sailors in the 16th to 19th centuries who became ill with scurvy during long sea voyages when it was hard to get a steady supply of fresh produce. Many died from the effects.
It also occurred during the Irish potato famine in 1845 and the American Civil War. The most recent documented outbreak was in Afghanistan in 2002, following war and drought.
Modern cases of scurvy
Here are some key points about scurvy. More detail is in the main article.
Scurvy occurs when there is a lack of vitamin C (ascorbic acid). The deficiency
This is because vitamin C is necessary to make collagen, an important component in connective tissues. Connective tissues are essential for structure and support in the body, including the structure of blood vessels.
A lack of vitamin C
Vitamin C is a necessary nutrient that helps the body
It is also necessary for synthesizing dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and carnitine, which are required for energy production.
Vitamin C deficiency symptoms can appear after
Within 1-3 months, there may be signs of:
- myalgia, or pain, including bone pain
- swelling, or edema
- petechiae, or small red spots resulting from bleeding under the skin
- corkscrew hairs
- gum disease and loss of teeth
- poor wound healing
- shortness of breath
- mood changes, and depression
In time, the person will show signs of generalized edema, severe jaundice, destruction of red blood cells, known as hemolysis, sudden and spontaneous bleeding, neuropathy, fever, and convulsions. It can be fatal.
Infants with scurvy will become anxious and irritable. They may experience pain that causes them to assume a frog-leg posture for comfort.
The main cause is insufficient vitamin C or ascorbic acid.
Humans cannot synthesize vitamin C. It needs to come from external food sources, especially fruits and vegetables or fortified foods.
A deficiency may result from:
- a poor diet lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables, possibly due to low income or famine
- illnesses such as anorexia and other mental health issues
- restrictive diets due to allergies, difficulty orally ingesting foods or other reasons
- older age
- excessive consumption of alcohol or use of certain substances
Late or unsuccessful weaning of infants
Conditions, treatments, or habits that reduce the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, chemotherapy, and smoking, also
Treatment involves administering vitamin C supplements by mouth or by injection.
The recommended dosage for adults is:
- 1,000 milligrams (mg) per day for at least 1 week
- 300-500 mg for 1 week
Within 24-72 hours, people can expect to see an improvement in fatigue, lethargy, pain, anorexia, and confusion. Bone changes can take a few weeks to resolve.
After 3 months, a complete recovery is possible. Long-term effects are unlikely, except in the case of severe dental damage.
Usually, a doctor will diagnose a person with scurvy based on the symptoms and confirm the diagnosis if the person improves after taking vitamin C supplements.
Taking a blood test to see a person’s level of vitamin C is unreliable because it shows only the current levels as opposed to broader deficits. However, a doctor can order a lab test to check for conditions that can occur as a result such as anemia.
In children, an x-ray can reveal internal damage resulting from childhood scurvy.
A person can prevent scurvy by consuming enough vitamin C, preferably through their regular diet, but sometimes as a supplement.
- Up to 6 months: 40 mg, as normally supplied through breastfeeding or chestfeeding.
- 7 to 12 months: 50 mg
- 1 to 3 years: 15 mg
- 4 to 8 years: 25 mg
- 9 to 13 years: 45 mg
- 14 to 18 years: 75 mg for males, 65 mg for females
- 19 years and above: 90 mg for males, 75 mg for females
During pregnancy, people should consume 85 mg of vitamin C, rising to 120 mg while nursing. People who smoke also need 35 mg more vitamin C each day than those who do not.
Foods that contain vitamin C include:
- fruits, such as oranges, lemons, strawberries, blackberries, guava, kiwi fruit, and papaya
- vegetables, especially tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, broccoli, potatoes, cabbage, and spinach
Other good sources are paprika, liver, and oysters. One medium orange contains
Fresh fruit and vegetables are the best source of vitamin C. Cooking and storing
Below are answers to a few common questions about scurvy.
What are the 3 symptoms of scurvy?
Scurvy can cause a wide range of symptoms, including swollen or bleeding gums, feelings of weakness and fatigue, and red or blue spots that form on the skin.
Do people still get scurvy?
Vitamin C deficiency is uncommon, with some sources estimating that it affects around
What is scurvy called today?
Scurvy may also be referred to as a severe vitamin C deficiency. However, it’s still also known as scurvy today.
What is scurvy caused by?
Scurvy is caused by an insufficient intake of vitamin C. This
What foods to avoid if you have scurvy?
There are no specific foods that a person needs to avoid if they have scurvy. A doctor or dietitian can provide detailed recommendations about dietary changes that a person should make to increase vitamin C levels and reduce symptoms.
Most people in the U.S. do not have a deficiency in vitamin C, also known as scurvy. However, it still exists in areas of the country or parts of the world with less access to fresh fruit and vegetables.
The symptoms of scurvy include anemia, fatigue, pain in the legs, swelling, and more. The treatment is to consume vitamin C through either diet or supplements.