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What Is a Deficiency Disease?

By Victoria Blackburn
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A deficiency disease is a disease or disorder that is caused by the lack of particular nutrients in a person’s diet. Nutritional deficiencies are usually linked with malnutrition, which results from an unbalanced diet. The person may not be starving, but may be limited in what he or she is eating. In other words, the person is getting enough to eat, but is missing certain nutrients because the foods that they are found in are not a part of that person’s diet.

Each deficiency disease is caused by the lack of a different nutrient. Which disease or disorder a person suffers from is directly linked to what is missing from the diet. Also, if a person’s diet is missing several essential nutrients, that person may suffer from more than one deficiency disease.

It is very rare for a deficiency disease to be fatal, but each can cause severe problems with the person’s body and general health. Deficiency diseases do become fatal in extreme cases where the deficit is a long-term chronic case. In most cases, the disease can be cured by adding the missing nutrient back into the diet. Unfortunately, if changes have happened to the body due to the deficiency disease, they may not be reversed by adding the nutrient. In these cases, further damage can often be prevented, however.

There are many known deficiency diseases caused by missing nutrients. Many are caused by a missing vitamin or mineral from the diet. A diet low in proteins, fats and carbohydrates can also cause different deficiency diseases. Examples of deficiency diseases include beri beri, scurvy, anemia, rickets and goiter, amongst others.

Vitamins A, B, C and D are essential to a person’s diet, and a lack of any one of them can cause a deficiency disease. A diet lacking vitamin A can result in night blindness. In this case, a child is unable to see when it is dark, and his or her eyes become dull. If left untreated, it can lead to blindness in the person who is affected.

Beri beri is the deficiency disease caused by low levels of vitamin B. This is a nerve disorder that can affect the eyes, skin, body growth and muscle formation. Scurvy occurs when the diet is lacking vitamin C. Historically, this disease is associated with sailors on long ocean voyages as fresh fruit and vegetables were not available. It causes swollen and bleeding gums, and teeth can become loose and fall out.

If a diet is missing vitamin D, then the person is likely to suffer from rickets. Vitamin D is necessary for bone formation, so a tell tale sign of this disorder is bow-leggedness. The lack of vitamin D causes bones to become weak and thin, and they do not grow properly, leading to deformities.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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