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Scurvy is a severe vitamin C deficiency. It's rare as most people get enough vitamin C in their diet. It's usually easy to treat.

Causes of scurvy

Scurvy is caused by not having enough vitamin C in your diet for at least 3 months. Vitamin C is mainly found in fruit and vegetables.

Even people who do not eat very healthily all the time are not usually considered at risk of scurvy.

Things that increase your risk of scurvy

Although scurvy is rare, you may be more at risk if you:

  • have no fresh fruits or vegetables in your diet for a while
  • eat very little food at all – possible reasons include treatments that make you feel very sick all the time (such as chemotherapy) or an eating disorder such as anorexia
  • smoke, as smoking reduces how much vitamin C your body gets from food
  • have a long-term dependency on drugs or alcohol that affects your diet
  • have a poor diet while pregnant or breastfeeding – the body needs more vitamin C at these times

Babies, children and older people who find it hard to have a healthy diet may also be more at risk of scurvy.

Non-urgent advice: Contact your GP if you're at risk of scurvy and you:

  • feel very tired and weak all the time
  • feel irritable and sad all the time
  • have severe joint or leg pain
  • have swollen, bleeding gums (sometimes teeth can fall out)
  • develop red or blue spots on the skin, usually on your shins
  • have skin that bruises easily

These might be symptoms of scurvy.

Treating scurvy

Scurvy is easily treated by adding some vitamin C to your diet, such as fresh fruit and vegetables.

Your GP may also recommend taking vitamin C supplements until you feel better. These are also called ascorbic acid.

Most people treated for scurvy feel better within 48 hours and make a full recovery within 2 weeks.

Your GP may refer you to a specialist for treatment, support or advice. This depends on what's causing your scurvy.

How to prevent a vitamin C deficiency

The best sources of vitamin C are fruit and vegetables.

The best way to get enough vitamins and minerals is to eat a healthy, balanced diet.

Contact your pharmacist or GP before taking any supplements or making changes to your diet during pregnancy.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 15 April 2021
Next review due: 15 April 2024

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.