Pellagra is caused by having too little niacin or tryptophan in the diet. It can also occur if the body fails to absorb these nutrients. It may develop after gastrointestinal diseases or with alcohol use, HIV/AIDS, or anorexia.
The disease is common in parts of the world where people have a lot of corn in their diet.
Symptoms of pellagra include:
- Delusions or mental confusion
- Nausea (sometimes)
- Inflamed mucous membrane
- Scaly skin sores
Exams and Tests
Your health care provider will perform a physical exam. You will be asked about the foods you eat.
Tests that may be done include urine tests to check if your body has enough niacin. Blood tests may also be done.
The goal of treatment is to increase your body's niacin level. You will be prescribed niacin supplements. You may also need to take other supplements. Follow your provider's instructions exactly on how much and how often to take the supplements.
Symptoms due to the pellagra, such as skin sores, will be treated.
If you have conditions that are causing the pellagra, these will also be treated.
People often do well after taking niacin.
Left untreated, pellagra can result in nerve damage, particularly in the brain. Skin sores may become infected.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if you have any symptoms of pellagra.
Pellagra can be prevented by following a well-balanced diet.
Get treated for health problems that may cause pellagra.
Vitamin B3 deficiency; Deficiency - niacin; Nicotinic acid deficiency
Crook MA. The importance of recognizing pellagra (niacin deficiency) as it still occurs. Nutrition. 2014;30(6):729-730. PMID: 24679717 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24679717.
So YT. Deficiency diseases of the nervous system. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 85.
Review Date 12/10/2016
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.