Modern Day Scurvy in Pediatric Orthopaedics: A Forgotten Illness

Tommy Pan, Eileen F Hennrikus, William L Hennrikus
Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics 2021 March 1, 41 (3): e279-e284

INTRODUCTION: Scurvy, or vitamin C deficiency, is rare. The goal of this study is to highlight the common risk factors and identify the orthopaedic presentation of scurvy in children.

METHODS: A retrospective chart and radiograph review was performed of all patients consulted to the pediatric orthopaedic service from 2010 to 2019 who ultimately had the diagnosis of scurvy confirmed by an abnormally low serum vitamin C level. Data extracted included: patient age, sex, neurological conditions, prematurity, psychiatric conditions, dietary abnormalities, bone pain, arthritis, limb swelling, inability to walk, skin changes, child abuse evaluations, radiographic findings, additional vitamin deficiencies, lab studies, additional tests, response to treatment. Descriptive statistics were performed.

RESULTS: Nine patients (7 males, 2 females) with scurvy were studied. The average age was 7 years (range 3 to 13 y). The average body mass index was 21.4 (range, 14 to 30). Five had autism, 2 had a neurological disorder. Two had been born premature. Two had a psychiatric disorder. Seven had an abnormal diet. One presented with bone pain. Four presented with limb swelling. Seven had unilateral and 2 had bilateral leg symptoms. Five presented with inability to walk. Six demonstrated skin changes with ecchymosis or petechiae. Three presented with gingival bleeding. Radiographic findings included subperiosteal hematoma in 2, ring epiphysis in 3, Pelkan spurs in 1, metaphyseal white lines (Frankel sign) in 6, and a metaphyseal zone of rarefaction (Trummerfeld zone) in 3. Seven had additional vitamin deficiencies including: A, B1, B6, B9, D, E, K, iron and zinc. Four had a bone marrow biopsy and 1 had lumbar puncture. All were anemic. The average erythrocyte sedimentation rate was 25.7 (range 6 to 35) and C-reactive protein was 1.5 (range 0.55 to 5.64). Six had a computed tomography, 3 had a magnetic resonance imaging. After treatment with vitamin C lasting 3.4 months (range, 2 wk to 7 mo), all symptoms gradually resolved, including leg pain and swelling. All children began to walk.

CONCLUSION: The pediatric orthopaedic surgeon should have an increased awareness about the diagnosis of scurvy when consulted on a child with bone pain or inability to walk. The most common orthopaedic presentation was the refusal to bear weight, the most common radiographic finding was the metaphyseal line of increased density (Frankel sign) and treatment with vitamin c supplementation was excellent in all cases.

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