Scurvy (severe vitamin C deficiency) is rare as most people get enough vitamin C in their diet. It's usually easy to treat.
Causes of scurvy
Scurvy is caused by not having enough vitamin C in your diet for at least 3 months. Vitamin C is mainly found in fruit and vegetables.
Even people who don't eat very healthily all the time aren't usually considered at risk of scurvy.
Things that increase your risk of scurvy
Although scurvy is rare, you may be more at risk if you:
- are on an unusual or restrictive "fad" diet – with very few or no sources of vitamin C
- eat very little food at all – possible reasons include treatments that make you feel very sick all the time (such as chemotherapy) or an eating disorder such as anorexia
- have a poor diet and smoke – smoking reduces how much vitamin C your body absorbs from food
- have a poor diet and are pregnant or breastfeeding – your body needs more vitamin C at these times
Speak to your GP or midwife before taking any supplements or making changes to your diet during pregnancy.
Other groups who may be more at risk of scurvy include:
- people with a severe digestive condition, such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis
- babies and young children who aren't getting the recommended amount of vitamins – read about vitamins for children
- very elderly people, who may find it harder to cook or maintain a healthy diet
- people addicted to drugs or alcohol
Non-urgent advice: See a GP if you're at risk of scurvy and you:
- feel very tired and weak all the time
- feel irritable and sad all the time
- have severe joint or leg pain
- have swollen, bleeding gums – sometimes teeth can fall out
- develop red or blue spots on the skin, usually on your shins
- have skin that bruises easily
These might be symptoms of scurvy.
Scurvy is easily treated by adding some vitamin C to your diet, such as fresh fruit and vegetables.
Your GP may also recommend taking vitamin C supplements until you feel better.
They might arrange a blood test to confirm you have scurvy if they're not sure.
Most people treated for scurvy feel better within 48 hours and make a full recovery within 2 weeks.
Your GP may refer you to a specialist for treatment, support or advice. This depends on what's causing your scurvy.
How to prevent a vitamin C deficiency
The best sources of vitamin C are fruit and vegetables.