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Cases of scurvy have ‘more than doubled’ in the UK – warning signs

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Isn’t a vitamin C deficiency known by another name?

Yes, it is. A vitamin C deficiency is also known as scurvy. Although most may associate that with history books and its commonality on long sailing voyages, it is very much a present problem.

Symptoms of scurvy include

  • Feeling very tired and weak all the time
  • Feeling irritable and sad all the time
  • Having severe joint or leg pain
  • Having swollen or bleeding ums
  • Developing red or blue spots on the skin
  • Having skin that bruises easily.

The NHS says someone could be more at risk if they:
• Have no fresh fruit or vegetables in their diet for a while
• Eat very little food at all
• Smoke
• Have a long-term dependency on drugs
• Have a poor diet while pregnant or breastfeeding.

One expert, Dr Charles Armitage, suggests it is a problem which could get worse with the cost of living crisis.

In fact, Dr Armitage said it would become a growing issue when he spoke to during the summer, when fears about the autumn and winter were growing.

While most of the focus was on the psychological impact of the cost of living crisis on the UK, Armitage highlighted the physical cost to people too.

Dr Armitage said in June: “The cost of living crisis is expected to trigger serious physical and mental health complications upon the public sphere.

“The crisis will inevitably have an impact on the UK’s obesity rates. Rising food costs can make it more difficult for those with stretched budgets to buy healthier food.”

Furthermore, it’s not just about the quality of the food people eat, but the impact that a lack of money has on their ability to heat their homes.

Dr Armitage expanded: “For instance, people who are unable to afford to heat their homes leave themselves exposed to increased risk of certain diseases such as pneumonia.”

On scurvy, and it’s association with the past, Dr Armitage says it is a very present problem: “Shockingly, the number of scurvy, rickets, and malnutrition cases in English hospitals have more than doubled since 2010, according to NHS data.

“This growing number of people falling ill is a direct results of vitamin deficiencies coinciding with increasing poverty, reliance on food banks and reduction in the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables.

“The cost of living crisis could mean an increase in malnourishment and scurvy cases.”

What’s the best way to treat scurvy?

The NHS says: “It’s important that scurvy is treated. Scurvy is easily treated by adding some vitamin C to your diet such as fresh fruit and vegetables. A GP may also recommend taking vitamin C supplements (also called ascorbic acid) until you feel better.”

However, curing scurvy is no quick process; recovery from the condition can take up to two weeks.

Furthermore, a GP may refer a patient to a specialist clinic for treatment, advice, and support. However, what treatment is received will depend on the cause of the scurvy.

If supplements are suggested, it is important to discuss these with a GP or midwife if this occurs during pregnancy.

What other deficiencies are common?

If people are unable to consume high-quality food, they could be at risk of a range of vitamin deficiencies, including vitamin D, one also more likely to occur during winter due to the lack of sunlight.

The body needs vitamin D to help support the immune system and maintain overall health.

Between the months of September and April, the government recommends the consumption of vitamin D supplements to help top up levels.

The recommended adult dosage is 100 micrograms, but this could vary depending on other factors such as age or advice from a GP.

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