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What's Your Diagnosis?

What Caused a Geriatric Gait in a Homebound Adolescent?

  • Answer: E. Vitamin C deficiency

    A preliminary diagnosis of nutritional deficiency of vitamin C (scurvy) was made through the patient’s dietary history and characteristic dermatological and imaging findings (Figures 3-5). A conclusive diagnosis was made after a serum vitamin C level was obtained after imaging and was noted to be low, at less than 0.09 mg/dL (reference range, 0.4-2.0 mg/dL) with laboratory evidence of iron deficiency anemia.

    Discussion. Scurvy, as a nutritional deficiency, is a rare phenomenon in developed countries.1 According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III, between 1988 and 1994, approximately 13% to 23% of the population of the United States was deficient in vitamin C.2 This statistic improved in the most recent NHANES survey between 2003 and 2004, where the prevalence of vitamin C deficiency was noted to be 8.4%, comprising 10% of men and 6.9% of women.3,4 However, vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, deficiency is noted to be common among elderly patients and those lacking access to fresh fruits and vegetables.5 

    Although scurvy is rare, the most classical presentation of scurvy is gingival hyperplasia and bleeding from the gums.6 Pathognomonic dermatological findings include perifollicular hemorrhages, follicular hyperkeratosis, corkscrew hair, and xerosis.7,8 In our case, the patient presented with progressive leg swelling and pain for over a month without the classical findings or history of bleeding gums while brushing his teeth or gingival hyperplasia on physical examination. He did have follicular hyperkeratosis, however.

    In the pediatric population, bone disease is often noted as a radiographic finding. Osteological MRI findings of scurvy as described in the literature reveal areas of subperiosteal hemorrhage within the bones, periosteal changes, low marrow signal intensity on T1-weighted images, and corresponding, high marrow signal intensity on T2-weighted images.9-12 With the exception of subperiosteal hemorrhage, our patient had all of these findings.

    Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that is absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. The recommended dietary allowance for vitamin C in the pediatric population ranges from 15 mg to 90 mg daily depending on the age group of children from 0 to 18 years of age.13,14 About 70% to 90% of consumed vitamin C is absorbed when the intake is moderate and in the range of 30 to 180 mg daily.14 Vitamin C is important for the synthesis of collagen, which is a crucial component of connective tissue development.15,16 It also plays an integral role in wound healing. Deficiency of dietary vitamin C decreases the absorption of nonheme iron and folic acid, resulting in iron deficiency anemia.10 In our case, the patient’s dietary history and iron deficiency anemia indicated vitamin C deficiency. The diagnosis of scurvy was made clinically and then confirmed by measuring his level of serum vitamin C. 

    Treatment of scurvy is directed at initiation of daily vitamin C supplementation in addition to vitamin C-rich foods, including citrus fruits (ie, lemons, limes, oranges) and vegetables.17 Treatment doses of vitamin C in infants and children range from 100 to 300 mg daily for a duration of 4 weeks.18,19 Considering that iron deficiency anemia secondary to scurvy and folate deficiency is refractory to iron treatment,20,21 our patient was started on iron, folate, and vitamin C supplements. In multiple cases, MRI findings of scurvy have been noted to resolve completely on repeat imaging studies obtained several weeks later. 8,9,22-24 

    Patient outcome. Our patient presented with the musculoskeletal findings of vitamin C deficiency as opposed to the classical presentation of bleeding gums and delayed wound healing.6 A detailed discussion regarding nutrition and the importance of a balanced diet was conducted with the patient and his family. As our patient was hemodynamically stable, he was discharged home from the ED with prescriptions for multivitamins, cholecalciferol, and iron and vitamin C supplements. We recommended outpatient follow-up with a pediatrician within 1 week of ED discharge for repeat serum vitamin C level testing, as well as ongoing nutritional counseling and monitoring.

    At the follow-up visit with his pediatrician, an improvement of his right lower leg swelling was noted, along with resolution of his generalized weakness and rash. Repeat laboratory testing was notable for a normal vitamin C level of 1.46 mg/dL after 12 days of treatment. Iron studies showed improvement, with increases in his hemoglobin level to 11.8 g/dL, total iron level to 48 ug/dL, and iron saturation index to 13%. The patient has adhered to the treatment recommendations and has made extensive dietary changes.


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