What is the cause of scurvy?


Scurvy is a disease caused by deficiency of Vitamin C also called as Ascorbic Acid. In the 15th and 18th centuries, the disease was associated often with sailors.

To help the body absorb iron and in turn produce collagen, an important nutrient is Vitamin C. Tissues in the body break down when enough collagen is not produced by the body. Vitamin C is also essential for synthesizing carnitine, dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine necessary for producing energy in the body.

Scurvy can lead to swelling in some body parts, anemia, pain in the limbs, debility, spontaneous bleeding and exhaustion. In some cases it could lead to loss of teeth and ulceration of the gums. Healing rate for injuries reduces due to Scurvy. If it is left untreated, it could turn out to be fatal.

Within 8-12 weeks, symptoms begin to appear due to deficiency of Vitamin C. Lethargy, appetite loss, irritability, fatigue and loss of weight are early signs of the diseases. Bone pain, corkscrew hairs, edema, shortness of breath and small red spots resulting from bleeding under the skin are some of the other symptoms of Scurvy disease.


Infants suffering from scurvy can become irritable and anxious. The pain, which they experience can make them assume a frog leg posture to attain comfort. A kind of bleeding called sub-periosteal hemorrhage may also occur at the long bone ends. Studies also indicate that if a woman does not get adequate Vitamin C during pregnancy, then it could cause problems with development in the brain in the fetus.

Diagnosis is done by the doctor by a physical examination. To assess levels of Vitamin C in the blood, lab tests are also done. Internal damage is identified with the help of imaging tests. Vitamin C supplements are administered by injection or by mouth as part of treatment.

Vitamin C supplements are given to improve the symptoms quickly. Pain in the joints gets resolved usually within 2 days. Within 2 weeks time, most people recover fully. Intravenous or oral Vitamin C supplements are administered to treat Scurvy. Fresh fruit, fortified foods, vegetables and oranges are a rich source of Vitamin C that can be taken as part of regular diet.

Scurvy can be best prevented by regular Vitamin C consumption as per recommendations. Infants up to 6 months need 40 mg, 7-12 months infants need 50 mg, 1-3 years children need 15 mg, 4-8 years old children need 25 mg, 9-13 year old children need 45 mg, 14-18 years adolescents need 65 mg for women and 75 mg for men. Women above 19 years need 75 mg and men need 90 mg of Vitamin C. Pregnant women need 85 mg Vitamin C and increased to 120 mg while breastfeeding.