Rickets (Calcium, Phosphate, or
Vitamin D Deficiency)

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Medical Editor:

Rickets facts

  • Rickets is caused by a deficiency of vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate.
  • There are several different types of rickets.
  • There are different bony abnormalities associated with rickets, but all are due to poor mineralization with calcium and phosphate.
  • The active form of vitamin D is synthesized by skin cells when exposed to sunlight.
  • Vitamin D is found in small amounts in a some foods.
  • Infants who are exclusively breastfed should receive vitamin D supplements.
  • Children and adolescents who do not obtain enough vitamin D though milk and foods should receive vitamin D supplements.

What is rickets?

Rickets is a disorder caused by a deficiency of vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate. Rickets leads to softening and weakening of the bones and is seen most commonly in children 6-24 months of age. There are several subtypes of rickets, including hypophosphatemic rickets (vitamin-D-resistant rickets), renal or kidney rickets (renal osteodystrophy), and most commonly, nutritional rickets (caused by dietary deficiency of vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate). Classic nutritional rickets is also medically termed osteomalacia.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/17/2012

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Learn about rickets and vitamin D deficiency.

Rickets & Vitamin D Deficiency

Does vitamin D deficiency cause symptoms?

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

Yes, deficiency of vitamin Dcan cause bone pain and muscle weakness. However, mild vitamin D deficiency is not necessarily associated with any symptoms. Vitamin D has been referred to as the "sunlight vitamin" because it is made in our skin when we are exposed to sunlight. It can also be obtained through dietary sources, but the main source of vitamin D in our diet is foods that have been fortified to include the vitamin (such as in milk and other dairy products). Vitamin D is only found naturally in significant levels in a few foods, including fatty fish, cod-liver oil, and eggs.

Vitamin D acts to regulate the calcium and phosphate levels in the body, thus promoting healthy bones. The characteristic vitamin D deficiency state is called rickets. Rickets causes softening and poor mineralization of the bones, leading to skeletal deformities. While rickets is the term typically used to describe the condition in children, osteomalaciarefers to the weakening of bones seen in adults who are severely deficient in vitamin D.

The many roles of vitamin D in maintaining health and well-being are a subject of active and ongoing research. Even subclinical (not producing signs or symptoms) deficiencies in vitamin D have been linked to significant health problems. Preliminary studies have shown that in addition to weakening of the bones, vitamin D deficiency may be associated with conditions as varied as cancers, asthma, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune diseases.


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