Rickets: Definition, Causes, Preventive Measures, Symptom, and Treatment

There are many diseases which affect the human being because of deficiency of nutrients required for our body. Among those different diseases. Rickets is one which affects an individual due to a deficiency of vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate. All these nutrients are necessary to make our bones strong and healthy. The main cause of rickets lack of vitamin D. 

The term Rickets is derived from the Old English word “wrickken”, meaning to twist or bend. In the 19th century, the disease became an epidemic in the UK and US. Now, the disease has more impact on the developing countries. Hence, this disease is the most common childhood disease in many developing countries.

The disease mostly affects the children but the adults can also suffer from rickets, but only in rare cases. When somebody suffers from rickets, the bones soften and become prone to fractures and deformity. It also causes skeletal deformities and stunted growth.

Symptoms of Rickets

There are several signs and symptoms related to Rickets. As it makes the bones weaker and obstructs the normal development, the disorder mostly affects the bones. Some of the major symptoms or Rickets includes:

  1. The bones become soft and tender which causes an increased tendency for fractures.
  2. The muscles also may become weak.
  3. It causes a disturbance in a normal growth process of the children.
  4. There will be a low level of calcium in the blood called as Hypocalcemia.
  5. The skull may become softer.
  6. Uncontrolled muscle spasms all over the body, also known as Tetany
  7. Due to metaphyseal cartilage hyperplasia, the wrists may widen.
  8. Toddlers may have bowed legs known as genu varum.
  9. Older children may have knock knees (Genu Valgum)
  10. Presence of a horizontal line at the lower margin of the thorax
  11. It can cause deformity in the spine, pelvis, ribcage or the chest.
  12. Rickets can also cause dental problems.

What is the main cause of Rickets?

The main cause of Rickets is the deficiency of Vitamin D. Vitamin D absorbs the required calcium from the intestines. If our body doesn’t get enough vitamin D then our body cannot absorb the calcium and phosphorus from the food we eat.  As a result, the person suffers from hypocalcemia which makes the bones, muscles, and teeth weaker. Not only this, lack of ultraviolet rays that we get from the sunlight also causes rickets. It prevents our skin cells from converting vitamin D from an inactive into an active state.

A genetic disorder is another cause of rickets in which the kidneys cannot process phosphate properly.  Because of this, the phosphate blood levels become too low, leading to weak and soft bones. In case of some diseases like kidney, liver and intestinal problems there might be problems in the way the body absorbs and metabolizes minerals and vitamins, resulting in rickets. There are also cases in which severe diarrhea and vomiting have caused Rickets.

Also Read: Hypercalcemia: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Who is at Risk?

There are greater chances of getting rickets among children from a poor family background. Most children who don’t get enough sunlight, a balanced diet and are living in drought-hit countries are at high risk of it. It is most common in children between 6 to 36 months old. It is also noted that most people who eat a vegetarian diet or have a problem in digesting milk are at high risk. In the countries which fall in a geographical region without enough sunlight, the children and people are at more risk.

The people who mostly work indoors may also have high chances of getting Rickets than other people.  According to studies, children of African descent who have dark skin are prone to Rickets because dark skin cannot react strongly to sunlight as light skin does. In the case of hereditary rickets, the disorder passes through the genes because of which the kidneys cannot absorb phosphate which can result in Rickets. In recent times studies have also proven that in developed countries, the maximum use of sun block creams has resisted the body to absorb necessary amount of sunlight which causes a deficiency of vitamin D and puts the children at risk.

Preventive measures For Rickets

As the famous saying goes by ‘Prevention is better than cure’ so it is better to adopt a healthy lifestyle and eat healthy food containing enough nutrients such as butter, margarine, fish, liver, juice, milk, and eggs which will help to prevent Rickets. It is important to eat a diet that includes adequate amounts of calcium, phosphorous, and vitamin D. Enough sunlight exposure is necessary so that the body absorbs necessary ultraviolet rays. The children should be encouraged out go out and play in the sun a few times in a week. But we should also be careful of overexposure in the sun which can cause damage too. Those who have kidney problem should check their calcium and phosphate levels regularly and seek consultation from doctors.


If Rickets is curable if it is properly diagnosed on time. Diagnosis includes examination by a physician doctor where he/she examines the tenderness or pain in the bones by lightly pressing on the bones. The doctor may recommend certain tests including blood tests to measure the levels of calcium and phosphate in the blood or bone X-rays to check for bone deformities. Arterial blood gases check the quantity of calcium and phosphate in the blood. In some rare cases, the doctor may suggest for bone biopsy in which a very small section of bone is removed and sent to the laboratory for analysis.


  • Treatment includes replacing the missing vitamin or mineral in the body. If a child is suffering from Vitamin D deficiency then the doctor will suggest the parents expose the child to more sunlight.
  • It is necessary to increase the intake of food which is high in nutrients containing vitamin D, such as fish, liver, milk, and eggs.
  • Vitamin D or calcium capsules are also available in the market which can replace the deficiency of those nutrients in the body. But you need to take them only under expert doctors’ advice.
  • Overconsumption of Vitamin D and Calcium capsules without doctor’s advice can be dangerous. Braces can correct the skeletal deformities if any. The treatment also requires a combination of phosphate supplements and high levels of a special form of vitamin D,  if it is of hereditary type.
  • If the treatment is done in time then the symptoms will begin to disappear within a week of taking the nutrient-rich food or medicines. There can be permanent skeletal deformities if you dont treat the child in time.

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