Osteomalacia is a condition that causes a weakening of the bones. It is different from osteoporosis in that it happens because of a vitamin D deficiency or a disruption in the body’s ability to properly break it down and use it. The nutrient helps the body to absorb calcium and maintain strong bones, so being unable to use it results in the bones becoming soft and frail.
Several factors have been identified as potential causes of osteomalacia. Besides insufficient vitamin D intake or issues with absorbing it, the condition can also manifest as a result of lack of sunlight exposure, which may be due to the shorter days of the winter season, living in a smoggy environment, or using a very strong sunscreen. Various medical issues that have been linked to osteomalacia include kidney failure, cancer, liver disease, lack of phosphate intake through one’s diet, vitamin D metabolism disorders, acidosis, and side effects of seizure medications.
During the early stages, osteomalacia may present no symptoms except those that are visible through various diagnostic tests. Later on, the condition can cause muscle weakness, bone fractures that have no real cause, and widespread pain within the bones, particularly in the pelvis, lower back, ribs, and legs. Pain can become worse at night due to the amount of weight being placed on the affected areas. When calcium levels become low, patients may experience spasms in the feet or hands and numbness in the arms, legs, and around the mouth.
Osteomalacia that stems from a vitamin D deficiency is often resolved with dietary changes or supplements to replace the missing nutrient. Additional supplements can be used when phosphorus and calcium levels are low. Treating any underlying medical issues that are causing osteomalacia will usually correct the problem. The condition often clears up within a few weeks.