Unlike most animals, which form ascorbic acid by metabolizing glucose, humans require an exogenous source. Vitamin C occurs primarily in fruits and vegetables, and scurvy develops from inadequate consumption of these sources, usually because of ignorance about proper nutrition, psychiatric disorders, alcoholism, or social isolation. The earliest symptom of scurvy, occurring only after many weeks of deficient intake, is fatigue. The most common cutaneous findings are follicular hyperkeratosis, perifollicular hemorrhages, ecchymoses, xerosis, leg edema, poor wound healing, and bent or coiled body hairs. Gum abnormalities, which occur only in patients with teeth, include gingival swelling, purplish discoloration, and hemorrhages. Pain in the back and joints is common, sometimes accompanied by obvious hemorrhage into the soft tissue and joints. Syncope and sudden death may occur. Anemia is frequent, leukopenia occasional. Treatment with vitamin C results in rapid, often dramatic, improvement. (J Am Acad Dermatol 1999;41:895-906.)
Learning objective: At the conclusion of this learning activity, participants should be familiar with the history, pathogenesis, clinical features, and treatment of scurvy in adults.