Scurvy: a disease almost forgotten

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Abstract

Background

Although much decreased in prevalence, scurvy still exists in industrialized societies. Few recent large studies have examined its pathogenesis, signs, and symptoms.

Methods

After we diagnosed scurvy in a 77-year-old female patient in 2003, we conducted a retrospective records review to identify patients with scurvy treated between 1976 and 2002 at Mayo Clinic (Scottsdale, Arizona; Rochester, Minnesota; or Jacksonville, Florida). We also searched the English-language medical literature for published reports on scurvy.

Results

In addition to our patient, seven of 11 patients whose records in the institutional database mentioned vitamin C deficiency were women. The age ranged from a neonate to 77 years (mean, 48 years). The most common associated causes were concomitant gastrointestinal disease, poor dentition, food faddism, and alcoholism. Vitamin or mineral deficiencies other than vitamin C deficiency were also found in our patients who had scurvy. The most common symptoms were bruising, arthralgias, or joint swelling. The most common signs were pedal edema, bruising, or mucosal changes. Four patients had vague symptoms of myalgias and fatigue without classic findings, and five had concomitant nutritional deficiencies. Follow-up available for six of 12 patients treated by vitamin C supplementation showed complete resolution of symptoms in five.

Conclusions

Patients with scurvy may present with classic symptoms and signs or with nonspecific clinical symptoms and an absence of diagnostically suggestive physical findings. Concomitant deficiency states occur not uncommonly. Taking a thorough dietary history and measuring serum ascorbic acid levels should be considered for patients with classic signs and symptoms, nonspecific musculoskeletal complaints, or other vitamin or mineral deficiencies.

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