Rickets vs. Osteomalacia

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Illustration of the human body which showing the effects of a lack of vitamin d for the body

Overview

The bones are important in the body. They provide protection for vital organs like the brain, heart, and lungs, they are the site of blood production, and they provide a framework to the body. The bones are also the ones carrying the body’s weight as well as providing the body’s framework.

The bones, like any part of the body, can develop problems, and these can lead to serious mobility issues. Rickets and osteomalacia, for instance, are two common bone problems that stem from the deficiency in Vitamin D.

Vitamin D functions and what is vitamin D deficiency

The bones need important vitamins and minerals to function properly. Calcium, for example, is the most important mineral for bone health but other minerals play pivotal roles as well. A balanced diet with the right nutrients may provide adequate calcium amount needs, without the need for expensive supplementation.

Aside from calcium, another important mineral is phosphorus. Phosphorus is vital for bone growth. Vitamin D is not really a vitamin because a vitamin is a nutrient that the body needs but cannot create. These vitamins are often consumed through food sources. On the other hand, vitamin D can be produced by the body in the skin when it’s exposed to good sunlight. Thus, it’s considered a hormone.

Vitamin D is vital to the body. It is important for good bone health and can prevent chronic disease when people are older. Children who lack vitamin D develop a condition called rickets, which causes bone weakness, skeletal deformities, bowed legs and a stooped posture.

Also, when adults have vitamin D deficiency, they can develop a condition called osteomalacia, which is the condition characterized by weak and soft bones.

The recommended daily intake of vitamin D in kids is 400 IU per day for children who are 0-12 months and 600 IU per day for children aged 1 – 18 years. A recent study says that kids over the age of 5 and adults need at least 1,000 IU per day of vitamin D for good health.

Rickets

Rickets is a condition that can affect the bone development in children. When children have rickets, their bones become weak and soft, which can lead to bone deformities. In adults, this condition is called osteomalacia.

Rickets can lead to poor growth, bone pain and skeletal deformities like the curvature of the spine, thickening of the ankles and bowed legs. Also, they are more prone to bone fractures.

The most common cause of rickets is the lack of essential vitamins and minerals for bone health – vitamin D and calcium. Vitamin D comes from sun exposure, and it’s also found in food like eggs and fish.

Rickets can be prevented by eating a diet that includes calcium and vitamin D sources. Also, it’s important to spend some time under the sun and if needed, taking vitamin D supplements.

Osteomalacia

Many diseases can affect the bones. One of the most common disorders is osteomalacia, a condition that is characterized by the softening of the bones, caused by severe deficiency of vitamin D. Commonly, young adults are affected by the condition, leading to bowing during growth.

The most common symptoms of osteomalacia include muscle weakness, bone pain and in severe cases, the bones may become too weak, they can get fractures.

The most common cause of osteomalacia is vitamin D deficiency. People get vitamin D from sunlight exposure and some food sources. Individuals who live in areas where sunlight exposure is limited and those who do not eat enough food containing vitamin D, are at a greater risk of having osteomalacia.

Another cause is celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine. The immune cells of the body mistakenly attack the cells of the lining of the intestine, leading to damage. As a result, there is an impaired ability to absorb the essential vitamins and minerals from food, including calcium and vitamin D.

If the patient underwent stomach surgery, cutting a part of the stomach, absorption is also disrupted. If surgery is done in the area where vitamin D and calcium are absorbed, it may lead to deficiencies and eventually, osteomalacia.

Some drugs, particularly the medicines that help manage seizure disorders can cause vitamin D deficiency. Lastly, kidney and liver disorders may also lead to vitamin D deficiency and osteomalacia. The liver and kidneys are important in the activation of vitamin D in the body.

During the early stages of osteomalacia, the patient may not experience any symptoms. This is despite the fact that osteomalacia can be seen in imaging tests like an X-ray.
When the condition progresses, the patient might develop bone pain and weakness of the muscles. The pain is described as dull and aching pain that affects the lower back, hips, pelvis, ribs, and legs. Monitoring of bone health is needed to make sure there are no fractures and breakage.