Rickets is a condition of abnormal bone development in children. In rickets the process of calcification and hardening of bones is disordered. Rickets results in abnormal bone formation that can be associated with pain, growth disturbance and deformity such as bowed legs (where the knees turn outwards).
There are many potential causes of rickets: a poor diet lacking in vitamin D and calcium is the most common cause, as these are both essential for normal bone formation. Rarer causes include an inability for the body to absorb or process vitamin D or other minerals. If these problems are present in an adult the condition is called osteomalacia.
Sources of vitamin D include sunlight and certain foods such as oily fish. Certain foods also have vitamin D added to help prevent rickets, including cereals. Foods that are high in calcium include dairy products and green leafy vegetables.
Thankfully rickets due to deficiency from the diet is rare now, since manufacturers starting fortifying certain foods with vitamin D. If you are concerned that you or your child is suffering from rickets, you should see your doctor. Symptoms that are suggestive of rickets include bone pains, growth disturbance, certain deformities including being bow-legged, joint swelling or ongoing dental problems.
Certain people may be more at risk of rickets including people with dark skin and babies who are breastfed for longer than 6 months.
If your doctor thinks rickets is a possibility, they will organise blood tests to determine if the levels of vitamin D and calcium are lower than expected. Most people with rickets can be treated with dietary advice and vitamin supplements. The rare, genetic forms of rickets can be more difficult to treat and may require a referral to a specialist.
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