What is Rickets?

Rickets is a skeletal condition or disorder. It occurs when a person lacks the essential vitamins and nutrients that are necessary for the development of strong and healthy bones. These missing nutrients can include phosphate, calcium or vitamin D. Rickets causes the bones in the body to weaken and soften because of the prolonged lack of vital nutrients.

Generally, rickets is a condition that affects children. It often causes stunted growth because of the weakening and softening of the bones. While rickets is a skeletal disorder, it is actually caused by gastrointestinal issues under most circumstances. Sometimes, the gastric system may be unable to properly absorb vitamin D. Vitamin D is vital to the development of strong, healthy bones because it promotes calcium and phosphate absorption, which in turn strengthen the bones.

Other potential causes for rickets include premature birth, kidney disorders and diseases, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, and maternal low vitamin D levels when the child was still in utero. Exclusive breastfeeding may also contribute to the development of rickets because human breast milk lacks sufficient vitamin D.

What are the Symptoms of Rickets?

There are numerous symptoms of rickets, most of which have to do with posture as well as mobility and growth. Pain is a common symptom of rickets and usually occurs in the legs, spine, or pelvis. Stunted growth is also an indicator of this skeletal condition.

A person with rickets may also suffer from muscle tone problems and weakness, especially in the arms and legs. Other symptoms include bowed legs or knock knees, deformities in the ribcage or other bones in the body, deformities in the teeth, dental abscesses, or skull deformities.

Rickets Causes

Rickets is most commonly caused by a lack of vitamin D and calcium. We get most of our vitamin D from the sun, so babies and children who do not spend much time outside are at particularly high risk of the disease. Calcium comes from our diet, particularly dairy products but also green vegetables, so a diet lacking in calcium could lead to rickets.

Some forms of rickets are genetic and caused by inherited disorders, although these cases are very rare. One example of genetic rickets is a type called hypophosphatemic rickets. In this disorder, the bones and kidneys process phosphate abnormally which leaves bones soft and weak.

Finally, rickets can occur in children who have conditions which affect the function of the intestines, kidneys or liver. In these cases, the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals is diminished, which leaves the body deficient in essential vitamin D and calcium.

How is Rickets Treated?

Generally, many of the issues and symptoms caused by rickets can be corrected with nutrient replacement. When the vitamin D, phosphate, and calcium levels are all back to normal, the bones can strengthen and harden, making the whole body stronger. If rickets has caused any significant deformities, surgery and bracing may be necessary to correct these issues. Spinal deformities and leg deformities are the skeletal abnormalities most likely to require surgery.

Rickets Prevention

It is possible to prevent rickets by ensuring that a child gets enough calcium and vitamin D. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consider taking vitamin D supplements to ensure their baby gets adequate vitamin D from their body or their milk. Babies and young children may also benefit from vitamin D supplements.

Spending time outside in the sun will also help to boost vitamin D levels, but it’s important to avoid sun damage to the skin. Children should spend around 10 to 15 minutes in the sun a few times a week without sunscreen, but it’s important that they are protected with broad-spectrum sunscreen if they’ll be exposed to the sun for more than 15 minutes at a time.

A balanced diet with moderate amounts of low-fat dairy products and plenty of fruit and vegetables will help to maintain health calcium levels in the body.

Children with underlying health conditions, such as digestive disorders or kidney diseases, should undergo treatment urgently to reduce the risk of rickets. Extra vitamin and mineral supplements may be recommended by doctors, and it may be helpful to have regular blood tests to check calcium and phosphorus levels so that a deficiency can be identified and treated before rickets occurs.