Scurvy: a rare but not non-existent disease
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Scurvy: a rare but not non-existent disease

Scurvy, due to vitamin C deficiency, is rare but not non-existent. This disease affects certain categories of the population, including elderly people living in institutions and people in precarious situations. Treatment of scurvy consists of the administration of vitamin C.

What is scurvy?

Definition

Scurvy is a significant and prolonged deficiency of vitamin C or ascorbic acid, a vitamin that the body can neither produce nor store. One to three months without vitamin C intake is enough to cause scurvy.

This deficiency may be related to a lack of vitamin C intake or increased vitamin C requirements in certain situations.

It is a serious illness that can lead to death.

Causes 

Scurvy is linked to vitamin C deficiency. An intake of 110 mg of ascorbic acid per day is necessary for an adult aged 20 to 60 years, and 120 mg for the elderly. Daily consumption of 5 fruits and vegetables covers the needs.

Diagnosis

In front of signs of scurvy, a blood test can be performed to measure ascorbic acid. A vitamin C level below 2.5g/ml indicates scurvy.

The persons concerned

In France, as in other European countries or the United States, scurvy, which was thought to be a disease of the past, is still relevant. Its incidence has even increased in France in recent years due to the increase in precariousness. It mainly affects disadvantaged people. The prevalence of scurvy is thus high among the homeless.

Risk factors

This disease mainly affects people from disadvantaged or precarious backgrounds (who do not eat 3 meals a day and/or have a diet poor or no fruit and vegetables), the elderly living in institutions, and people living alone.

People with increased vitamin C needs (in the case of diabetes for example) are more at risk of developing scurvy. Finally, people with psychiatric conditions or cancer and those who smoke or drink alcohol are also more likely to have vitamin C deficiency, as are those on a restrictive diet.

Symptoms of scurvy

In the case of scurvy, there is asthenia (great fatigue), weight loss, and anorexia (loss of appetite). Scurvy is marked by joint weakness and osteoarticular pain.

Scurvy, a hemorrhagic syndrome

Scurvy is manifested by a hemorrhagic syndrome: purpura, ecchymosis, and hematomas …

Skin manifestations

Scurvy gives skin symptoms: hair in a “corkscrew”, hair loss, follicular hyperkeratosis (abnormal proliferation of the stratum corneum of the dermis which is manifested by skin covered with small pimples)

Other symptoms of scurvy:

  • Oral manifestations: gingivitis with hemorrhage, loss of teeth …
  • Oedema of the lower limbs
  • Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
  • A depression …

Treatments for scurvy

The treatment of scurvy consists of the administration of 1 g of vitamin C divided into several daily oral doses most often, for 15 days. The bleeding syndrome disappears within 48 hours. In 15 days, there is an overall improvement.

Preventing scurvy

Eating 5 fruits and vegetables a day is enough to cover vitamin C intake.

To prevent scurvy, restrictive diets should be avoided.

Vigilance is required in people with risk factors for scurvy: smoking, alcoholism, the elderly, low socio-economic level, psychiatric diseases, and diabetes…

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