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 Pellagra is a disease caused by a deficiency of niacin (vitamin B3) in the diet. It is characterized by symptoms such as diarrhea, dermatitis, and dementia.

Causes of Pellagra

The primary cause of pellagra is a dietary deficiency of niacin. This can occur in people who rely heavily on a diet of corn as a staple food, as the niacin in corn is not readily available to the body unless the corn is treated with an alkali solution. Additionally, alcoholism and malabsorption disorders can contribute to the development of pellagra.

Symptoms of Pellagra

Symptoms of pellagra include:

  • Dermatitis, characterized by a red, scaly rash on sun-exposed areas of the skin
  • Diarrhea
  • Dementia and other neurological symptoms
  • Mouth sores
  • Fatigue and weakness

Diagnosis and Treatment


Diagnosis of pellagra is usually made based on the presence of the characteristic symptoms, along with a dietary history and physical examination. Laboratory tests may be used to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other conditions.


Treatment of pellagra typically involves supplementing the diet with niacin or niacin-rich foods. In severe cases, high-dose niacin supplements may be administered intravenously or intramuscularly. Additionally, other vitamin and mineral deficiencies should be corrected, and any underlying medical conditions should be treated. With prompt and appropriate treatment, the prognosis for pellagra is generally good.


Complications of pellagra can include the following:

Neurological damage

Prolonged deficiency of niacin can lead to neurological damage, including confusion, memory loss, hallucinations, and even death.

Skin damage

The characteristic rash of pellagra can lead to thickened, leathery skin, and can also increase the risk of skin cancer.

Gastrointestinal complications

 Diarrhea, a common symptom of pellagra, can lead to dehydration and malnutrition.

Mental health complications

Prolonged pellagra can lead to depression and even psychosis.

Worsening of underlying conditions

Pellagra can worsen underlying conditions such as alcoholism, malabsorption disorders, and chronic liver disease.


 Left untreated, pellagra can be fatal.


It's important to note that pellagra is a preventable disease, hence it's important to have a balanced diet that includes enough niacin and other essential vitamins and minerals.


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