Rickets – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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Rickets – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Rickets - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Rickets - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Rickets is the softening and weakening of bones in children, usually because of an extreme and prolonged vitamin D deficiency. Rare inherited problems also can cause this disease.

Vitamin D helps your child’s body absorb calcium and phosphorus from food. Not enough vitamin D makes it difficult to maintain proper calcium and phosphorus levels in bones, which can cause rickets.

Adding vitamin D or calcium to the diet generally corrects the bone problems associated with rickets. When rickets is due to another underlying medical problem, your child may need additional medications or other treatment. Some skeletal deformities caused by rickets may require corrective surgery.

What are the symptoms of rickets?

  • pain or tenderness in the bones of the arms, legs, pelvis, or spine
  • stunted growth and short stature
  • bone fractures
  • muscle cramps
  • teeth deformities, such as:
  • delayed tooth formation
  • holes in the enamel
  • abscesses
  • defects in the tooth structure
  • an increased number of cavities
  • skeletal deformities, including:
  • an oddly shaped skull
  • bowlegs, or legs that bow out
  • bumps in the ribcage
  • a protruding breastbone
  • a curved spine
  • pelvic deformities

What are risk factors?

Rickets risk factors include

  • premature birth (low levels of vitamin D, calcium, and phosphorus);
  • limited sun exposure (especially in high and low latitudes);
  • hereditary metabolic diseases (for example, X-linked hypophosphotemic rickets);
  • darkly pigmented individuals;
  • infants born to vitamin D-deficient mothers;
  • renal (kidney) diseases that affect calcium and phosphorus absorption; and
  • nutrition — suboptimal calcium and phosphorus intake or low vitamin D intake (seen in certain vegan diets due to avoidance of milk/dairy products). Soy milk and breakfast cereals fortified with vitamin D are helpful.


Treatment for rickets focuses on replacing the missing vitamin or mineral in the body. This will eliminate most of the symptoms associated with rickets. If your child has a vitamin D deficiency, your doctor will likely want them to increase their exposure to sunlight, if possible. They will also encourage them to consume food products high in vitamin D, such as fish, liver, milk, and eggs.

Calcium and vitamin D supplements can also be used to treat rickets. Ask your doctor about the correct dosage, as it can vary based on the size of your child. Too much vitamin D or calcium can be unsafe.

If skeletal deformities are present, your child may need braces to position their bones correctly as they grow. In severe cases, your child may need corrective surgery.

For hereditary rickets, a combination of phosphate supplements and high levels of a special form of vitamin D are required to treat the disease.

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