From the moment your baby is born, they no longer receive nutrients through the umbilical cord. They will instead need nutrients initially from milk and then at around six months, also from solid food. It is important for a child to have an appropriate diet for growth and development at every stage of their life.…
What is scurvy?
Scurvy is a condition caused by prolonged deficiency of vitamin C and is characterized by general weakness, gum disease (gingivitis), anemia and skin problems including bleeding into the skin. Vitamin C is not produced by the body and therefore must come from the diet. Vitamin C is found in fresh fruits and vegetables.
Many years ago, scurvy was associated with sailors and pirates as fruit and vegetables would perish during long sea voyages. Scurvy is not as common now, as most people have access to fresh fruit and vegetables, or supplements all year round. However, it is still possible to get scurvy if you are malnourished and lack vitamin C.
Scurvy is caused by a severe deficiency in vitamin C and symptoms usually appear after about three months. Vitamin C is not produced by the body and therefore must come from the diet. Severe deficiency in vitamin C can be caused by malnutrition where there are limited fruit and vegetables consumed, or in medical conditions that prevent the absorption of vitamin C.
A lack of vitamin C in the diet can affect many of the body's processes including collagen formation, which is used throughout the body to strengthen skin, blood vessels and bones. Collagen is also important in wound healing. Other processes affected by a lack of vitamin C include decreased iron absorption and the ability to fight infection.
Some people are more at risk of vitamin C deficiency and therefore developing scurvy. These include:
- Alcoholics with poor nutrition;
- Elderly people who may be malnourished;
- People who smoke, as smoking lowers vitamin C uptake;
- People on fad diets that may restrict certain foods;
- People with malabsorption disorders and inflammatory bowel disease;
- Dialysis patients due to unwanted vitamin C clearance, and;
- Other malnourished people.
Signs and symptoms
Signs and symptoms of scurvy occur after around three months of severe vitamin C deficiency and can include:
- Weakness and fatigue;
- Skin problems including papules, which are small bluish/reddish spots of internal bleeding that surround hair follicles. Papules may join together to cover large areas of skin, termed purpura, that look like large bruises;
- Broken hair;
- Anemia due to blood loss;
- Swollen and reddened gums with loose teeth;
- Aching limbs, swollen and tender joints;
- Eye problems including dryness, irritation and light intolerance, and;
- Fever, diarrhea and vomiting, particularly in children.
Severe cases can lead to heart and lung problems involving breathing difficulties, low blood pressure and death.
Methods for diagnosis
Your doctor can make a diagnosis of scurvy after evaluating your dietary habits and performing a blood test to check vitamin C levels. An X-ray of sore joints or bones to check for bone thinning, which is commonly seen in people with scurvy, may also be performed.
Types of treatment
Scurvy is treated by increasing the amount of vitamin C in your diet. This can be in the form of fruits, particularly citrus fruits including oranges, lemons and limes. Vegetables including spinach, cabbage, capsicum and broccoli are also high in vitamin C.
To aid your treatment, your doctor may suggest that you take vitamin C supplement tablets for a short period. With effective treatment, symptoms including bleeding into the skin and gums will stop within one to two days. Aching limbs and tender joints may take a few weeks to heal.
As part of the treatment process, it is important to manage any underlying conditions that are causing your vitamin C deficiency and scurvy.
Complications of scurvy can be serious, including anemia, heart and lung problems, shock and death. Scurvy can also affect bone growth in newborns and children. A deficiency in vitamin C causes growth plates in bones to harden prematurely, leading to the stunting of height.
Iron deficiency may occur in people with scurvy. This is because vitamin C is required for the absorption of iron from your diet. Your iron levels may be measured by a blood test while being tested for scurvy.
Scurvy is a condition caused by a prolonged deficiency in vitamin C, but is easily treated by increasing the amount of vitamin C in your diet. The outlook is positive, with symptoms subsiding within days to weeks with generally no long-lasting effects.
It is possible to prevent scurvy by having enough vitamin C in the diet. It is best to eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, as they not only contain vitamin C, but many other nutrients to keep you healthy. Vitamin C supplements are also available if you are not getting enough from your diet.