Scurvy-Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

 Scurvy is perhaps the oldest known deficiency disease. However, its specific relationship to ascorbic acid was not recognized until the 20th century. It generally occurs between six and 18 months of age, but can start much earlier in pre-mature babies or those borne of mothers who lacked nutritious food during their later stages of pregnancies.

Scurvy is perhaps the oldest known deficiency disease. However, its specific relationship to ascorbic acid was not recognized until the 20th century. It generally occurs between six and 18 months of age, but can start much earlier in pre-mature babies or those borne of mothers who lacked nutritious food during their later stages of pregnancies.

Scurvy is very rare in countries where fresh fruits and vegetables are readily available and where processed foods have vitamin C added. Vitamin C is an important antioxidant vitamin involved in the development of connective tissues, lipid and vitamin metabolism, biosynthesis of neurotransmitters, immune function, and wound healing. It is found in fruits, especially citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and grapefruit, and in green leafy vegetables like broccoli and spinach. In adults, it may take several months of vitamin C deficiency before symptoms of scurvy develop.

Causes of Scurvy

In adults, early signs of scurvy include feeling weak, tired, and achy. The appearance of tiny red blood-blisters to larger purplish blotches on the skin of the legs is a common symptom. Wound healing may be delayed and scars that had healed may start to breakdown. The gums swell and bleed easily, eventually leading to loosened teeth. Muscle and joint pain may also occur.

Scurvy develops when the diet lacks adequate amounts of vitamin C. Certain conditions increase the body''s demand for vitamin C and therefore increase the risk of deficiency. These conditions include pregnancy, breastfeeding, diarrhea, inflammatory diseases, burns, surgery, and exposure to intense heat or cold.

Symptoms of Scurvy

The appetite of the infant is recovered within 24-48 hours. The symptoms of irritability, fever, tenderness upon palpation, and hemorrhage generally resolve within 7 days.

The child may also suffer from an abnormal enlargement of the joints and swelling at the ends of long bones such as the thighs. Gum problems are unlikely until the child begins teething, but fever, anemia (a deficiency of red blood cells), and increased pulse and respiration rates are common.


A lack of vitamin C in the diet is the primary cause of scurvy. This can occur in people on very restricted diets, who are under extreme physiological stress (for example, during an infection or after an injury), and in chronic alcoholics. Infants can develop scurvy if they are weaned from breast milk and switched to cow''s milk without an additional supplement of vitamin C.

Some other important symptoms of scurvy are gradual weakening, pale skin, sunken eyes, tender gums, muscle pain, loss of teeth, internal bleeding, and the opening of wounds such as sword cuts that had healed many years before.

Treatment of Scurvy

The use of lime and lemon is highly beneficial in the prevention and treatment of scurvy. Being rich sources of vitamin C, lime and lemon are regarded as foods of exceptional therapeutic value. They have saved the lives of innumerable crews of ocean-going vessels from scurvy. The juice of one lime or lemon mixed in a glass of water, with a teaspoon of honey, should be taken for treating this condition.

As rich sources of vitamin C, lemon (bara nimbu) and lime (nmboo) are regarded as foods or exceptional therapeutic value in scurvy. The juice of either or both these fruits should be consumed by the patient diluted in warm water and mixed with honey.

As well as improving your diet by including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, you will be advised to take daily doses of 250mg of absorbic acid (vitamin C) supplements.
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