The symptoms of scurvy usually begin three months after a person stops getting enough vitamin C in their diet.

In adults, the initial symptoms of scurvy include:

  • feeling very tired and weak all the time (fatigue)
  • a general sense of feeling "out of sorts" – such as feeling irritable and miserable all the time
  • pain in your limbs – particularly your legs 
  • the appearance of small red-blue spots on your skin

The spots develop where individual hairs grow out of the skin (hair follicles), and they often occur on the shins. Hairs in affected areas usually twist around like corkscrews and break away easily. Without treatment, the spots can grow and merge to create large dark patches on your skin.

Other symptoms then follow, including:

  • swollen gums – which become soft and vulnerable to bleeding (your teeth may feel loose or fall out)
  • severe joint pain, caused by bleeding inside the joints
  • shortness of breath – particularly after periods of physical activity
  • redness and swelling in recently healed wounds (new wounds may also fail to heal)
  • easily bruised skin

Left untreated, scurvy can cause jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes), oedema (swelling caused by a build-up of fluid) and potentially fatal heart problems.

Scurvy in infants

In infants, the initial symptoms of scurvy include:

  • lack of appetite
  • irritability
  • poor weight gain
  • diarrhoea
  • high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above

As the condition progresses, additional symptoms include:

  • pain and tenderness in the legs – which is often severe and can make a young child very upset when they're having their nappy changed
  • as with adults, the appearance of reddish-bluish spots on the skin
  • the eyes bulging outwards

Iron deficiency anaemia

As vitamin C helps the body absorb iron, scurvy can lead to a condition called iron deficiency anaemia. Symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia can include tiredness, lethargy (lack of energy) and shortness of breath.

Page last reviewed: 14/01/2015
Next review due: 14/01/2018