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Scurvy is a rare condition that can develop if you don't have enough vitamin C in your diet.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C (also called ascorbic acid) is vital for the body, because it's needed to make collagen. Collagen is a type of protein found in many different types of tissue, such as skin, blood vessels, bones and cartilage.

Without vitamin C, collagen can't be replaced and the different types of tissue break down, leading to the symptoms of scurvy. These include:

  • muscle and joint pain
  • tiredness
  • the appearance of red dots on the skin
  • bleeding and swelling of the gums

Read more about the symptoms of scurvy.

Unlike some other types of vitamins, the human body is unable to make vitamin C.

All of the vitamin C that the body needs has to come from your diet, so the best way to prevent scurvy is to eat a healthy, balanced diet that contains plenty of fruit and vegetables.

Read more about preventing scurvy.

Who's affected by scurvy?

People tend to think that scurvy is a condition of the past, because our diet and standard of living has improved over the years.

However, although rare, vitamin C deficiency can still be a problem for certain groups of people, including:

  • elderly people who are unable to maintain a healthy diet
  • people who smoke or have a dependency on alcohol or drugs
  • people on a low income

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may also be at risk of getting scurvy if they will only eat certain foods that aren’t good sources of vitamin C.

Read more about the causes of scurvy.

Treating scurvy

A doctor will usually be able to diagnose scurvy by asking about your symptoms and diet. They may also carry out a blood test to measure the level of vitamin C in your blood.

Treatment for scurvy is relatively straightforward. It involves taking vitamin C supplements and eating food that's high in vitamin C. This should quickly reverse the harmful symptoms of scurvy.

The fact that a person has scurvy in the first place is usually a sign that they're vulnerable or living a chaotic lifestyle. Referral to a dietitian, social worker or mental healthcare professional may be required to prevent further episodes of scurvy or other problems linked to malnutrition.

Read more about treating scurvy.

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