Scurvy Symptoms and Treatment

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Historically, the disease known as scurvy, was most associated with sailors from the 17th and 18th centuries. It was prevalent among seafarers since it is caused by a vitamin C deficiency, and foods containing this important vitamin were generally lacking in their diet. While scurvy isn’t as prevalent as it once was, it can still be found under certain circumstances.

Vitamin C is important to every diet. It helps in the formation of collagen, which strengthens bones, blood vessels and skin. It acts as an antioxidant, warding off dangerous, cell destroying free radicals. It also absorbs excess iron in the body and fights infection, however, it needs to be constantly replenished in the body through the ingestion of fruits and vegetables.

When the body goes for long periods of time without this vital nutrient, signs of scurvy begin to appear. In those whose bodies had little vitamin C to begin with, symptoms may show up in as little as four weeks. Symptoms can affect various parts of the body from the teeth, gums, and hair, to the legs and digestive system. It may even produce a feeling of paralysis. In the case of very young children and babies, scurvy, if left untreated, may cause permanent damage and stunted growth. Initially the patient will experience feeling of fatigue, painful joints, nausea and diarrhea, and in more advanced cases, there may be tooth loss. In the earliest stages, scurvy may resemble a mild intestinal disorder.  

Today, scurvy is most generally caused by anemia, famine, dietary restrictions, anorexia, or simply an improper diet. Once it is suspected that a patient has scurvy, tests can be performed to determine exactly how much vitamin C is in the system and how much damage has already been done to various organs. The treatment is relatively simple. The patient is given the very vitamin that they lack, and eventually, in most cases, symptoms begin to disappear. They may also be given supplements as well, to speed up the process.

Those most susceptible to scurvy, apart from those who live in famine stricken regions, are smokers, dieters, those with particular allergies, and others who simply refuse to eat fruits and vegetables. For many of these, who must get their vitamin C in some form, supplements are the logical alternative, however, it is also important to remember that over doses of this vitamin can also pose a problem.

"What Is Scurvy? What Causes Scurvy?." Medical News Today: Health News. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2011. <>.

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