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Scurvy is a disease caused by not eating enough vitamin C. People who have scurvy get spots on their skin, especially at the legs. Their teeth may loosen and fall out. They may bleed from the mouth, nose, and gums (mucous membranes). A person with scurvy will look pale and feel sad (see depression). They will not be able to move easily, because their joints hurt.

In the past, sailors used to get scurvy because fresh fruit and meat could not be kept for as long as they were at sea. In 1747, James Lind discovered that this was the main cause of scurvy. Not many people get scurvy now in rich countries.

Signs of scurvy

At first, a person with scurvy may:

  1. Not want to eat (loss of appetite)
  2. Feel sad (slight depression)
  3. Lose weight or not get heavier even though they eat a lot
  4. Loose feces (diarrhea)
  5. Breathe fast (tachypnea)
  6. Be hot (have a high body temperature or fever)

A bit later a person with scurvy may:

  1. Feel angry (irritability)
  2. Have pains in the legs (and tenderness)
  3. Find it hard to move (pseudo paralysis)
  4. Have swelling of the arms and legs
  5. Bleed from the mouth, nose and gums

Why people get scurvy

  1. Not eating enough food that has vitamin C
  2. Going on a long trip, often at sea, where there is no fresh food
  3. Not having enough food (famine)
  4. Eating the wrong kinds of food
  5. Spoiling food by cooking it badly (like boiling fruit juice)

Treatment of scurvy

  1. Eating vitamin C pills or giving it by needle (injection, also known as a shot). The injection almost always cures scurvy in babies.
  2. Drinking orange juice is another treatment that works in babies. Before vitamin C was discovered this was the only treatment.

When a person gets help for scurvy, they usually get better very quickly. Babies start eating again after one or two days of help. The symptoms get better within seven days.

Getting vitamin C from food

Eating vitamin C prevents scurvy. How much vitamin C a person needs changes with his or her age and is different for pregnant and lactating women. The following is the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council's advice on how much vitamin C to eat every day:

  • Infants (babies): 30-40 mg
  • Children and adults: 45-60 mg
  • Pregnant women: 70 mg
  • Mothers breast feeding: 90-95 mg

Foods with a lot of vitamin C include the following:

  • Citrus fruits (for example: oranges, limes)
  • Berries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Spinach
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Strawberries