What is osteomalacia?
The bones are important parts of the body. They play a pivotal role in the overall function of the body, because they aid movement, provide a framework to the body, produce blood that is vital for the delivery of oxygen to the various cells in the body and protect important organs like the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, and liver.
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 condition keeps the bones from mineralizing or hardening, which they normally do.
As a result, people with this condition are prone to bone bending and breaking. Only adults have osteomalacia because when kids have it, it’s called rickets. During pregnancy, women are at a higher risk of having osteomalacia. Hence, getting the needed vitamin D and calcium is important.
What causes osteomalacia?
Osteomalacia comes from a defect in the process called bone-maturing. The body utilizes the minerals calcium and phosphate to help build and strengthen the bones. If you do not get enough of these minerals, you may develop osteomalacia.
The most common causes include:
Vitamin D deficiency – Vitamin D is produced when the skin gets enough sunlight.
People who live in areas where the sunlight hours are short or those who do not eat enough vitamin D food sources are at a higher risk of developing osteomalacia. Vitamin D deficiency is the number one cause of osteomalacia across the globe.
Celiac disease – Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder, wherein the consumption of food containing gluten can damage the lining of the small intestine. As a result, there is an impaired ability to absorb important nutrients and minerals, including vitamin D and calcium.
Some surgeries – Usually, the stomach breaks down food to release vitamin D and other minerals absorbed in the intestines. If surgery is conducted in the area and the process is disrupted, it can result in the deficiency of vitamin D, and eventually, osteomalacia.
Some drugs – Some drugs used to treat and manage seizure disorders can cause vitamin D deficiency and eventually, osteomalacia. Phenytoin like Dilantin and Phenytek, are some of the drugs that can cause this vitamin deficiency.
Liver and kidney disorders – The kidneys and liver are important in the activation of vitamin D in the body. If there are kidney or liver problems, these could interfere with the body’s ability to activate vitamin D.
Signs and symptoms of osteomalacia
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. The pain might be worse at night when there is pressure on the bones. The pain can’t be relieved by rest. Aside from these, there is noted leg weakness and reduced muscle tone, leading to a slower pace of walking and a waddling gait.
Bone pain also happens when you walk, run or even stand. Lying down or sitting to rest can often ease the pain, but not that long. A minor bump or knock on the bone can be extremely painful. As the condition progresses, the pain can get worse even with just simple movements and regular activities.
The muscles become stiff, too. The weakness of the muscles can make them feel stiff. Regular activities like climbing the stairs, getting out of bed and getting up from a chair, can be really difficult.
The worst part is, fractures are inevitable in people with osteomalacia. Fractures are extremely painful and may interfere with daily activities at work and in school.
The common signs and symptoms also include:
- Bones that are weak, brittle and they tend to fracture easily
- Muscle weakness
- Hard time walking
- Waddling gait
- Bone pain, particularly in the hips and other weight-bearing joints
- Dull aching pain that can radiate to the legs, ribs, and pelvis
If osteomalacia is accompanied by low calcium levels, the symptoms may appear:
- Numbness around the mouth
- Numbness in the legs and arms
- Irregular heart rhythms
- Spasms in the hands and feet
If you suspect that you have this condition because of the stated symptoms, it is important to get checked right away. Diagnosis may involve getting blood samples to detect low levels of vitamin D, low levels of calcium and low levels of phosphorus.
X-rays and other imaging tests may also show detailed photos of the bones, indicating the presence of fractures or even small cracks in the weak bones.