Scurvy

Scurvy is a disease resulting from a lack of vitamin C (ascorbic acid).[1] Early symptoms of deficiency include weakness, feeling tired and sore arms and legs.[1][2] Without treatment, decreased red blood cells, gum disease, changes to hair, and bleeding from the skin may occur.[1][3] As scurvy worsens there can be poor wound healing, personality changes, and finally death from infection or bleeding.[2]

Scurvy
Other namesMoeller's disease, Cheadle's disease, scorbutus,[1] Barlow's disease, hypoascorbemia,[1] vitamin C deficiency
Scorbutic gums, a symptom of scurvy. The triangle-shaped area between the teeth show redness of the gums.
SpecialtyEndocrinology
SymptomsWeakness, feeling tired, changes to hair, sore arms and legs, gum disease, easy bleeding[1][2]
CausesLack of vitamin C[1]
Risk factorsMental disorders, unusual eating habits, alcoholism, intestinal malabsorption, dialysis[2]
Diagnostic methodBased on symptoms[2]
TreatmentVitamin C supplements,[1] Citrus fruits
FrequencyRare[2]

It takes at least a month of little to no vitamin C in the diet before symptoms occur.[1][2] In modern times, scurvy occurs most commonly in people with mental disorders, unusual eating habits, alcoholism, and older people who live alone.[2] Other risk factors include intestinal malabsorption and dialysis.[2] While many animals produce their own vitamin C, humans and a few others do not.[2] Vitamin C is required to make the building blocks for collagen.[2] Diagnosis is typically based on physical signs, X-rays, and improvement after treatment.[2]

Treatment is with vitamin C supplements taken by mouth.[1] Improvement often begins in a few days with complete recovery in a few weeks.[2] Sources of vitamin C in the diet include citrus fruit and a number of vegetables (such as red peppers, broccoli, and tomatoes).[2] Cooking often decreases vitamin C in foods.[2]

Scurvy is rare compared to other nutritional deficiencies.[2] It occurs more often in the developing world in association with malnutrition.[2] Rates among refugees are reported at 5 to 45 percent.[4] Scurvy was described as early as the time of ancient Egypt.[2] It was a limiting factor in long-distance sea travel, often killing large numbers of people.[5] During the Age of Sail, it was assumed that 50 percent of the sailors would die of scurvy on a major trip.[6] A Scottish surgeon in the Royal Navy, James Lind, is generally credited with proving that scurvy can be successfully treated with citrus fruit in 1753.[7] Nevertheless, it wouldn't be until 1795 before health reformers such as Gilbert Blane persuaded the Royal Navy to routinely give lemon juice to its sailors.[6][7]