BACKGROUND: In recent years, cases of scurvy have mainly been described in populations at risk. The prevalence and risk factors for hypovitaminosis C among hospitalized patients in a department of internal medicine are largely unknown. METHODS: We determined serum ascorbic acid level (SAAL) and searched for clinical and biological signs of scurvy in 184 patients hospitalized during a 2-month period. RESULTS: The prevalence of hypovitaminosis C (depletion: SAAL<5 mg/l or deficiency: SAAL<2 mg/l ) was 47.3%. Some 16.9% of the patients had vitamin C deficiency. There was a strong association between hypovitaminosis C and the presence of an acute phase response (p=0.002). Other univariate risk factors for vitamin C depletion were male sex (p=0.02), being retired (p=0.037), and infectious diseases (p=0.002). For vitamin C deficiency, the significant univariate risk factors included the same ones found for vitamin C depletion, plus being unemployed (p=0.003) and concomitant excessive alcohol and tobacco consumption (p<0.0001). Logistic regression showed that being retired (p=0.015) and concomitant excessive alcohol and tobacco consumption (p=0.0003) were significant independent risk factors. Hemorrhagic syndrome and edema were described more often in patients with vitamin C deficiency than in those with vitamin C depletion or without hypovitaminosis. Clinical signs were more frequent for an ascorbic acid level below 2.5 mg/l. CONCLUSION: Hypovitaminosis C is frequent in hospitalized patients but should be interpreted according to the presence or absence of an acute phase response. The main risk factors are living conditions and excessive alcohol and tobacco consumption.