How Is Scurvy Treated and Is There a Cure?

Reviewed on 3/25/2021

What is scurvy?

Scurvy is usually treated with a diet change, vitamin supplements, or an ascorbic acid injectable.
Scurvy is usually treated with a diet change, vitamin supplements, or an ascorbic acid injectable.

Many have heard of scurvy but do not know exactly what it is. Often, scurvy is thought of as “the pirate disease” due to lack of nutrition overseas. However, over the last three millennia, scurvy has been the most common nutritional deficiency disease we know of. There have been decades of modern research dedicated to the understanding and cure of scurvy. Its cause, and its cure, are both accessible and treatable.

Scurvy is a condition that results from a lack of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in your daily diet. Doctors often see those with an insufficient diet, lacking fruits and vegetables, beginning to exhibit scurvy symptoms. 

In more severe cases, extreme malnutrition, anorexia, and joint problems begin to occur. Symptoms begin to occur after three months of severe or total vitamin C deficiency. If you have a vitamin C deficiency, you may experience symptoms like:

  • General weakness
  • Fatigue 
  • Achy limbs

If scurvy is left untreated, more severe symptoms may occur such as:

Diagnosis for scurvy

Scurvy is caused by a dietary deficiency of vitamin C. Unlike animals that can generate their own vitamin C through consuming glucose, humans must consume food high in vitamin C to deter scurvy.

Since scurvy is a nutritional deficiency disease, all ages are susceptible to getting it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 13% of the U.S. population has a vitamin C deficiency. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 10% to 14% of adults were reported to have a vitamin C deficiency, with 15% to 25% of people age 65 and over being affected.

Vitamin C is one of the building blocks for collagen, which contributes to joint health as well as immunity. Often those with scurvy exhibit signs of other conditions such as anorexia and impaired joint mobility. It is standard for your doctor to diagnose scurvy based on physical signs, X-rays, and improvement after treatment.

QUESTION

According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.” See Answer

Treatments for scurvy

Healthcare providers usually treat scurvy with a diet change, vitamin supplements, or an ascorbic acid injectable. 

Medications

If you have scurvy, your doctor will evaluate your diet and lifestyle to see if adding a vitamin C supplement to your meals is right for you. Oftentimes, this is a quick cure and patients begin to see improvements shortly after.

Home care

Diet and schedule are two very important aspects of recovery from scurvy. Doctors often encounter vitamin C-deficient patients with erratic eating habits, a lack of fruits and vegetables in their meals, and the absence of a daily vitamin included in their everyday health regimen.

Eating a balanced meal of fruits and vegetables with your protein and carbs, getting daily exercise, resting well, and avoiding smoking and excessive drinking are all ways to prevent and cure scurvy.

Alternative therapies

The ascorbic acid injectable (Ascor L 500) for intravenous use is kept for more severe cases of scurvy, especially for those being treated for other conditions that contribute to vitamin C deficiency. The ascorbic acid injectable is used for people where oral treatment is insufficient or not advisable. The injectable is FDA approved for scurvy in adults and children 5 months and older. 

Possible complications and side effects

There is no risk associated with adding a vitamin C supplement to your diet or increasing your fruit and vegetable intake, unless otherwise advised by your doctor for another preexisting condition not related to scurvy. Large doses of vitamin C, however, can cause the following symptoms:

The ascorbic acid intravenous injection (Ascor L 500) has been linked to various kinds of kidney failure when the injection is used in high doses for prolonged periods of time. People with renal disease or history of oxalate kidney stones, people in increased age, and children younger than 2 years old may be at higher.

Other medications may have different side effects when paired with vitamin C treatments. Always consult your doctor before starting a new regimen of medications, herbs, or vitamins to ensure there are no complications.

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References
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “NHANES III (1988-1994).”

Clinical Trials: “Study of Prevalence and Risk Factors of Hypovitaminosis C in Long Term Care Unit (Vitamin C).”

Food and Drug Administration: “ASCOR (ascorbic acid injection), for intravenous use: Initial U.S. Approval: 1947.”

Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology: "Adult scurvy."

Journal of General Internal Medicine: “Scurvy Is Still Present in Developing Countries.”

Mayo Clinic: “Is it possible to take too much vitamin C?”

National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences: “Scurvy.”

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Serum vitamin C and the prevalence of vitamin C deficiency in the United States: 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).”

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