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Scurvy (severe vitamin C deficiency) is 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 over a long period of time. Vitamin C is mainly found in fruit and vegetables.

However, 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, because 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.

Symptoms of scurvy

Symptoms of scurvy may include:

  • feeling very tired and weak all the time
  • feeling irritable and sad all the time
  • joint, muscle or leg pain
  • swollen, bleeding gums (sometimes teeth can fall out)
  • developing red or blue spots on the skin, usually on the legs and feet, although this may be less noticeable on brown or black skin
  • skin that bruises easily

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

You or your child are at risk of scurvy and:

  • feel very tired and weak all the time
  • feel irritable and sad all the time
  • have joint, muscle or leg pain
  • have wounds that reopen or are not healing well

Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 now if:

You or your child are at risk of scurvy and have:

  • skin that bruises easily
  • swollen, bleeding gums (sometimes teeth can fall out)
  • joint or leg swelling
  • a high temperature (fever) or feel hot or shivery
  • yellow whites of the eyes, or yellow skin although this may be less obvious on brown or black skin – this can be a sign of jaundice

You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.

Immediate action required: Call 999 or go to A&E if:

You or your child have:

  • a rash that does not fade when you press a glass against it – in scurvy, this may look like red or blue spots
  • a sudden, severe headache unlike anything you've experienced before, even if it's got a bit better now – it may have felt like you had been hit with something hard
  • a stiff neck
  • sensitivity to light
  • blurred or double vision
  • stroke-like symptoms – such as slurred speech and weakness on one side of the body
  • loss of consciousness or uncontrollable shaking (convulsions)
  • severe chest pain or difficulty breathing
  • confusion or drowsiness

Your child may appear limp, floppy or not respond like they normally do. Their head may fall to the side, backwards or forwards, or they may find it difficult to lift their head or focus on your face.


Do not drive to A&E. Ask someone to drive you or call 999 and ask for an ambulance.

Bring any medicines you take with you.

Treating scurvy

It's important that scurvy is treated quickly. Without treatment, scurvy can cause serious problems and may even be life-threatening.

Mild cases of scurvy are often easily treated by adding some vitamin C to your diet, such as from fresh fruit and vegetables.

A GP may also recommend taking vitamin C supplements (also called ascorbic acid) until you feel better.

Most people treated for scurvy feel better within days and go on to make a full recovery.

The 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 prevent a vitamin C deficiency and get enough vitamins and minerals is to eat a healthy, balanced diet.

It's important to speak to a GP or midwife before taking any supplements or making changes to your diet during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

Page last reviewed: 27 September 2023
Next review due: 27 September 2026