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What is Rickets?

Rickets is a childhood disorder of the bones where the bones become soft and prone to fractures. Bones tend to become weak due to an inadequate supply of nutrients, Vitamin D3 in particular. It is also caused due to lack of calcium and phosphate in the body. Weak bones can lead to bone deformities. Vitamin D largely comes from exposing the skin to sunlight. Other good sources of Vitamin D are fatty fish (such as tuna and salmon) and egg yolks.

It is a commonly occurring disorder in children, especially ones with darker skin due to lack of exposure to sunlight, and is also seen in premature infants. This condition of rickets in adults is called osteomalacia which is usually characterized by soft bones. Diagnosis of rickets is normally done through blood tests and X-rays. Blood tests indicate the condition through alarmingly low levels of calcium and phosphorous and higher levels of a phosphatase that is alkaline in nature. Through X-rays, it is indicated by the change in the shape of bones. Bone biopsies also help in their diagnosis.

Types of Rickets

Rickets is of the following types:

    1. Nutritional Rickets– This is caused due to intake of food which lacks calcium, phosphorous and vitamin D.
    2. Hypophosphatemic Rickets- It is caused due to low levels of phosphate. It is an X-linked genetic disorder where the kidneys are not able to control the amount of phosphate excreted in the urine.
    3. Renal Rickets- People suffering from kidney disorders have renal rickets. They are unable to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate excreted in the urine.

Symptoms Of Rickets

The symptoms of rickets are as follows:

  • Reduced growth and short height
  • Fractures in bones
  • Softening of bones
  • Pain in the bones of arms, legs, pelvis, and spine
  • Deformities in teeth
  • Deformities in the skeleton like bowlegs, and protruding breastbone.

Causes of Rickets

Vitamin D is required to absorb calcium from food. Lack of calcium and vitamin D or the inability to absorb the same causes rickets.

Vitamin D is obtained through sunlight and food. Vitamin D is produced when the skin is exposed to sunlight. The use of sunscreen blocks the rays and hence the production of Vitamin D by the skin is reduced.

Fish oil and fat and the egg yolk are highly rich in Vitamin D. In addition, some cereals, milk and fruit juices also contain Vitamin D.

Related Reading: Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms

Sometimes, Rickets can be inherited as it is a genetic disorder. It commonly occurs in children since bones grow rapidly in them, more so in children with the following attributes:

  • Darker complexion – excess melanin pigment
  • Inadequate supply of foods rich in calcium, phosphorous
  • Lack of sunlight exposure
  • When infants are breastfed without Vitamin D supplements
  • Possessing diseases which inhibit the absorption of Vitamin D

Treatment Of Rickets

This condition can be treated under proper guidance if the underlying cause is diagnosed early on. It can also be treated without any major bone deformities, however, certain conditions might need surgical intervention.

  • Rickets can be treated by eating a diet rich in vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin D, and consuming calcium and phosphorus-rich food.
  • Vitamin D supplements need to be given to infants of the breastfeeding age. Enough exposure of the skin to sunlight improves the condition.
  • If rickets is caused due to a genetic disorder, the patient is prescribed vitamin D hormones and phosphorous medications.
  • Braces might be required in case of skeletal deformities to position the bones correctly as the child grows.

Risk Factors Involved

The major risk factors for rickets are given below:

  • Children between 3 and 36 months are more prone to this disorder. This is the time when more calcium and phosphate are required by the bones for their development.
  • Children who are lactose-intolerant are more prone to rickets. Also, infants depending on breastmilk develop this disease because breastmilk lacks vitamin D.
  • Children with dark complexion are more susceptible to this disease. Dark skin does not react strongly to sunlight and therefore does not produce vitamin D.
  • Children living in areas with less sunlight or spending most of the time indoors are likely to fall prey to this disease.
  • It can also be passed on to successive generations.

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Related Links: Deficiency Diseases

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