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Osteomalacia And Rickets: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Osteomalacia and rickets are characterized by softening of the bones due to a lack of vitamin D or a problem with the body's ability to break down and use vitamin D.

In adults the condition is usually referred to as osteomalacia while in children it is commonly called rickets.

The bones of people suffering from osteomalacia have a normal amount of collagen but lack the proper amount of calcium needed for healthy bones.

What Causes Osteomalacia And Rickets

The most common causes of osteomalacia and rickets are:

  • Insufficient sunlight, which produces vitamin D in the body
  • Not enough vitamin D in the diet from fish or fortified foods
  • Malabsorption of vitamin D by the intestines

Factors reducing the formation of vitamin D in the body and leading to osteomalacia are:

  • Continuous use of very strong sunscreen
  • Living in northern countries where there is low radiation from the sun in the winter
  • Continuous exposure to heavy smog

Other conditions that may cause osteomalacia include:

  • Cancer
  • Hereditary or acquired disorders of vitamin D metabolism
  • Kidney failure and acidosis
  • Liver disease
  • Phosphate depletion associated with not enough phosphates in the diet
  • Side effects of medications used to treat seizures

Osteomalacia Symptoms

The symptoms associated with osteomalcia and rickets are very similar to those experienced by people with osteoporosis. Bones may fracture easily and there may be widespread bone pain... especially in the hips.

People with osteomalacia may also experience muscle weakness. Low calcium levels may also cause abnormal heart rhythms, numbness around the mouth, numbness in the arms and legs and spasms in the hands or feet.

Osteomalacia Tests

There are a number of tests to determine if a person has osteomalacia.

  • Blood tests: used to check vitamin D, creatinine, calcium and phosphate levels
  • Bone density test (DXA): help to detect fractures, bone loss and bone softening
  • Bone biopsy: can reveal bone softening
  • ALP (alkaline phosphatase) isoenzyme and PTH tests: may be used to determine if there is a kidney problem or other underlying disorder.

Osteomalacia And Rickets Treatment

Treatment for osteomalacia usually involves oral vitamin D, calcium, and phosphorus supplements. Larger doses of vitamin D and calcium may be needed for people who cannot properly absorb nutrients into the intestines.

Your doctor may wish to conduct regular blood tests to monitor blood levels of phosphorus and calcium if there is an underlying condition causing the osteomalacia.

When a vitamin D deficiency is the primarily cause of the osteomalacia, improvements can often be seen within a few weeks.