Rickets: Symptoms, causes, and treatments

Rickets is a childhood bone disorder where bones soften and become prone to fractures and deformity. It is rare in industrialized nations, but fairly common in some developing countries.

The main cause of rickets is a lack of vitamin D. Also, not consuming enough calcium can cause rickets, as may vomiting, diarrhea, and liver diseases. Certain complications of digestive disorders can also cause rickets.

Treatment focuses on providing nutrition. A study published in JAMA in 2013 suggested that infants should be given a daily dose of vitamin D to support bone mineralization.

Fast facts on rickets:

Rickets is a condition that most often occurs due to malnutrition.

Symptoms can include weak bones and bowed legs.

Providing a child with extra vitamin D and some minerals usually resolves rickets.

Rickets can also occur as the result of a genetic condition.

What is rickets?

Student with anatomy skeleton.
Rickets causes weak or deformed bones during childhood.

Rickets is a disorder that often occurs during childhood in which the bones become weak and deformed.

It is a condition usually linked to malnutrition. The condition remains rare in the United States, but statistics on rickets have shown an increase in the number of people diagnosed since the year 2000.

The condition comes about due to a low intake of vitamin D, which means that low exposure to sunlight can also contribute.

Rickets mainly affects children, but may also affect adults in a condition known as osteomalacia. In most cases, the child has experienced severe and long-term malnutrition, usually since early childhood.

a piece of salmon
Eggs and oily fish, such as salmon, are excellent sources of vitamin D.

The body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium from the intestines. The ultraviolet (UV) light in sunlight helps the skin cells convert vitamin D from an inactive to an active state.

If a person does not have enough vitamin D, calcium is not absorbed properly from the food they eat, causing low levels of calcium in the blood.

Low calcium levels result in deformities of bones and teeth, as well as nerve and muscle problems.

Adding vitamin D to a diet is relatively simple. The following foods are rich in vitamin D:


fish oils


some fortified milks and juices

some oily fishes, including mackerel and salmon

some soy milk products have vitamin D added

Vitamin D deficiency can easily be improved with small dietary changes, which makes the most common cause of rickets the most easily avoidable.

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