Scurvy—Characteristic Features and Forensic Issues

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Scurvy is a multisystem condition that arises from vitamin C deficiency. As humans cannot synthesize vitamin C, serum and tissue levels depend on bioavailability, utilization, and renal excretion. Deficiencies result in defective collagen formation with swelling of gums, leg ulceration, and bleeding manifestations. Death most often results from infection and hemorrhage. In a forensic context, scurvy may mimic inflicted injuries and may be responsible for sudden death by mechanisms that remain unclear. Cardiac failure and rhythm disturbances with chest pain, hypotension, cardiac tamponade, and dyspnea are associated with vitamin C deficiency. In addition, syncope and seizures may occur. Although far less common than in previous centuries, scurvy is still present in high-risk populations that include alcoholics, isolated elderly individuals, food faddists, institutionalized patients, those with mental illness, and those who have had bariatric surgery or with underlying gastrointestinal conditions. Scurvy should therefore be a diagnosis to consider in medicolegal cases of apparent trauma and sudden death.

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