Scurvy Symptoms and Treatment

You may be wondering why we're covering scurvy symptoms and treatment if it's a disease that hardly occurs any more. However, the truth is that this condition is still around and is important to prevent.
Scurvy Symptoms and Treatment

Last update: 14 October, 2021

Scurvy is part of the group of diseases known as avitaminosis. The group includes disorders in which people are deficient in some of the vitamins their bodies need for normal development of bodily functions. In today’s article, we’ll tell you about scurvy symptoms and treatment.

People who have scurvy are deficient in vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid. It’s very difficult for this to happen because you can easily find fruit, which is why this disease isn’t very common these days. 

However, in history, there were a lot of times where people suffered from nutritional deficiency, like scurvy. For example, there wasn’t fruit available on long boat rides. In addition, prolonged droughts in different areas that depended on their harvest dealt with this disease.

Currently, doctors are diagnosing people in refugee camps. This is the result of their poor living conditions. Other poor areas around the world, where crops are the only source of income, also deal with scurvy. Let’s take a look at the scurvy symptoms and treatment.

What is vitamin C?

vitamin C logo with an orange

Vitamin C deficiency can cause scurvy. So, why is this substance so important for humans? The explanation lies in its role as an adjuvant factor for enzymes.

To synthesize collagen, the body needs an enzyme called propyl-lysyl hydroxylase to be activated. However, that enzyme won’t work if it doesn’t have vitamin C. In the long run, if there’s no collagen production, various tissues suffer the consequences, from the skin down to the bone.

In addition, you need vitamin C to synthesize corticosteroids and hormones, like aldosterone. Also, in the digestive system, iron can penetrate the intestinal mucosa with the help of ascorbic acid. So, your body needs vitamin C to avoid iron deficiency anemia. 

Also, vitamin C is a natural antioxidant. It blocks the negative effect of free radicals that cellular metabolism produces. So, it helps your body fight the effects of aging.

We’re not able to manufacture vitamin C from scratch, so we need to get it from our foods. Citrus fruits contain the most ascorbic acid. However, you can also get a sufficient quantity from berries and green leafy vegetables. 

Our bodies need a nearly constant store of 1,500 milligrams of vitamin C to function correctly. You can maintain this amount by getting at least 60 milligrams of ascorbic acid per day. In general, normal diets meet this minimum.

Scurvy symptoms

When you have scurvy, you’ll notice that the primary symptoms have to do with collagen production. Therefore, a common sign is inflammation of the gums. Also, they tend to bleed when you touch your mouth or brush your teeth. 

Scurvy also affects your skin for the same reason it affects collagen. Cracks can appear that will end up bleeding if they’re deep enough. Also, they can create stretch marks. In addition, you may notice dermal symptoms under your nails.

Another scurvy symptom is anemia because of the lack of iron absorption. This is more progressive and less abrupt, and it often takes years. Anemia will lead to fatigue, lack of strength, increased skin dryness, and cognitive disorders.

In addition, wounds don’t heal quickly in scurvy patients. This has to do with their anemia and because they don’t have enough collagen to repair their skin.

Scurvy treatment

An array of food high in vitamin B.

As you can probably guess, scurvy treatment consists of getting a sufficient amount of the ascorbic acid your body lacks. That way, it can replace the deficiencies. However, you can’t do this immediately with food because it’s likely that your intestinal mucosa is damaged.

Normally, the professional will start by giving you a dose of vitamin C, either intravenously or in special oral preparations. This starting dose can be as high as 1,000 milligrams a day, for up to two full weeks. 

Once your body stabilizes, the doctor will continue having you take smaller doses until the ascorbic acid deposits reach adequate amounts to function. The response is generally rapid and patients don’t tend to have any complications from the treatment.

Also, you should note that it’s very rare for scurvy to show up on its own. It’s common for other nutritional deficiencies to appear as well. Health professionals tend to track various vitamin and mineral deficiencies at the same time. Therefore, they’ll apply a general and complete treatment.

Conclusion

It’s important to note that scurvy still exists. Although it’s not as common as was centuries or decades ago, there are still cases of it.

The key is understanding scurvy symptoms and treatment, and assessing the patient’s condition. That will usually point to nutritional deficiencies that include vitamin C and others. 

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