Scurvy

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Ms. Sandhya Pandey

  • M.Sc. Food and Nutrition
  • 0 years experience

Dr. Ms. Deepti Khatuja

  • M.Sc. Food and Nutrition
  • 0 years experience

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About Scurvy

Scurvy is a disease that is caused by the deficiency of Vitamin C. There are various indicators of this disease such as exhaustion, anemia, debility, occasional bleeding, limb pain particularly the legs along with swelling in some parts of the body. It could also cause ulceration of gums and teeth loss.

The disease is known to make its first appearance in ancient Greek and Egyptian times. It is often linked with sailors in the 15th to 18th centuries when long sea journeys made it difficult to get a proper supply of fresh food. Due to which, many people died during the journey.

It also happened during the Irish potato famine in 1845 and the American Civil War. The most recent reported outbreak was in Afghanistan in 2002, after the war and lead to a drought.

In today’s times,  the occurrence of scurvy cases are rare, particularly in a region where better quality bread and cereals are available, but it can still make people sick who do not consume adequate amounts of vitamin C.

There are many functions of vitamin C including:

  • The right production of collagen, the protein that helps give the body’s connective tissues assembly and constancy
  • Cholesterol and protein metabolism
  • Iron absorption
  • Antioxidant action
  • Wound healing
  • Production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and epinephrine

Signs and symptoms

Vitamin C is an extremely crucial nutrient that helps the body absorb iron and create collagen. If the body does not create adequate amounts of collagen, tissues tend to break down. It is also required for synthesizing dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and carnitine, important for energy production.

The signs of vitamin C deficiency are known to become visible after 8 to 12 weeks. Preliminary signs include a loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, petulance, and lassitude.

In a time period of 1 to 3 months, there may be signs of:

  • Anemia
  • Myalgia, or pain, including bone pain
  • Swelling, or edema
  • Petechiae, or small red spots resulting from bleeding under the skin
  • Corkscrew hairs
  • Gum problems and loss of teeth
  • Improper wound healing
  • Breath shortness
  • Mood changes, and depression

Over time, an individual will display signs of widespread edema, severe jaundice, and annihilation of red blood cells, called hemolysis, instant and spontaneous bleeding, neuropathy, fever, and convulsions. It can be life-threatening.

Infants suffering from this disease can get anxious and irritable. They may come across pain that causes them to accept a frog-leg posture for comfort.

Causes

The first and foremost cause of this problem is a deficiency of vitamin C.

Risk factors

Our body cannot produce vitamin C. It means we need to depend on external sources of vitamin C by the way of drinks, foods, and supplements.

A majority of people with scurvy gets a dearth of access to fresh fruits and vegetables, or don’t take a healthy diet. This disease affects the large population in the developing world. Recent public health surveys have revealed that it may be far more prevalent in developed countries than once considered, particularly in at-risk segments of the population. Medical conditions and lifestyle conduct also augment the risk of the condition.

A deficiency may emerge due to:

  • A proper diet lacking in good fruits and vegetables, maybe due to low income or famine
  • Illnesses like anorexia and other mental health disorders
  • Obstructive diets, due to allergies, problems in orally ingesting foods, or other causes
  • Older age
  • Heavy consumption of alcohol or use of illegal drugs
  • Late or unsuccessful dissuading of infants can also cause scurvy.

Conditions, treatments, or habits that affect the body's capability to absorb nutrients, such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, chemotherapy, and smoking, uplift the risk of getting affected.

Risk factors for malnutrition and scurvy include:

  • Child or 65 years of age and over
  • Daily alcohol intake
  • Consumption of illegal drugs
  • Living unaided
  • Restrictive or specified diets
  • Low income reduced access to nutritious foods
  • Being homeless or a refugee
  • Living in areas with limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Eating disorders or psychiatric conditions that involve a fear of food
  • Neurological conditions
  • Disabilities
  • Forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis
  • Digestive or metabolic conditions
  • Immune conditions
  • Living in a place where the cultural diet consists almost entirely of carbohydrates like bread, pasta, and corn
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Smoking
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy
  • Dialysis and kidney failure

Treatment

Though the symptoms can be harsh, the disease is quite simple to treat.
Vitamin C is indeed found in a wide range of fruits and vegetables. It’s also often included in juices, cereals, and snack foods. If you doubt that you have a mild case of scurvy, eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables regularly is the best way to deal with the condition.

Oral vitamin C supplements are also largely available and the vitamin is added in a majority of multivitamin supplements. If symptoms don’t go down after a few days of dietary changes, it is advised to consult with a doctor.

For extreme, chronic, situations around scurvy, a doctor may suggest high-doses of oral vitamin C supplements for many weeks to months. There’s no agreement on a particular therapeutic dose for the extreme condition of scurvy. In such cases, your doctor may recommend high doses of oral vitamin C supplements for several weeks or longer.

A majority of people start getting recovered from scurvy quite rapidly after the commencement of treatment. One should witness an improvement in some symptoms within a day or two of treatment, including:

  • Pain
  • Exhaustion
  • Confusion
  • A headache
  • Mood swings

Treatments for Scurvy

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