Rickets is a disease that affects children specially during periods of rapid growth (ages 6 to 24 months). Rickets in adults is known as osteomalacia. Rickets causes the bones to soften and become liable to fracture and deformity. It is due to decreased amount of calcium in bone. This may be caused by:
- Lack of vitamin D which is important for the absorption of calcium and phosphorous from the intestine. We get vitamin D from foods like milk, eggs, and fish, and our bodies also make vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight. Children may not get sufficient vitamin D if they live in areas with little sunlight or have dark skin.
- Insufficient intake of calcium intake in diet.
- Kidney disorders that interfere with blood levels of calcium and phosphorus.
Rickets used to be common in the past, but almost disappeared in the Western world due to the fortification with vitamin D of foods such as cereals.
Rickets may cause any of the following symptoms:
- Deformities of teeth or delayed tooth formation,
- Retarded growth and short stature
- Thickened wrists and ankles
- Bone fractures with minor trauma
- Bone deformities e.g. bowed legs, pelvic deformity and deformed skull.
- Pain in the bones of arms and legs.
- Muscle cramps
The condition is diagnosed by clinical examination of the child. To confirm the diagnosis and detect the cause the following may be ordered:
- blood test to measure level of calcium, phosphorus, parathyroid hormone and renal functions
- x-rays of bones
- urine tests
Treatment depends on replacing the missing vitamin or mineral in the body. If there is deficient vitamin D, it is advised to expose the baby to more sun and to eat foods high in vitamin D, such as fish, eggs, liver and milk. Calcium and vitamin D supplements can also be used.
Skeletal deformities may need braces to position the bones correctly as they grow. In severe cases, corrective surgery may be required.