What is rickets?
Rickets is a rare disorder that affects the bones, causing them to soften and break easily. It is most common in children.
What are the symptoms of rickets?
Rickets has several main symptoms, including:
- delayed growth
- muscle weakness
- pain in the bones of the spine,pelvis, and legs
- bowed (curved) or misshapen legs.
Rickets also can cause dental issues, such as cavities and problems with teeth structure.
What causes rickets?
A lack of vitamin D causes most cases of rickets. Vitamin D helps bones absorb calcium and phosphorus. If your child does not get enough vitamin D, their body may not get the nutrients it needs to make bones strong.
Rickets is most common in children ages 6 to 24 months. This is because their bones grow rapidly during this period. Your child also may be at risk if they:
- Have dark skin.
- Don’t get enough exposure to sunlight.
- Don’t eat enough foods containing vitamin D, calcium, or phosphorus.
- Breastfeed without getting a vitamin D supplement.
- Have an illness that prevents their body from making or absorbing vitamin D. One example is celiac disease.
Rickets also can run in families, and children can inherit it.
How is rickets diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask about your family health history and your child’s health and diet. Your child will need a full physical exam. Blood tests and bone X-rays also help the doctor determine if your child has rickets.
Can rickets be prevented or avoided?
In most cases, you can help prevent your child from having rickets. Make sure they get enough vitamin D and calcium. If your baby is breastfed or consumes more breast milk than formula, they need a vitamin D supplement. This is because breast milk does not contain enough vitamin D alone. Do not give your child vitamin supplements unless your doctor recommends them. Ask your doctor for dosage information.
If your child eats solid foods, you should manage their diet. Offer them foods high in vitamin D, such as breakfast cereals and orange juice, and calcium, such as milk, cheese, and salad greens.
Ask your doctor how much time in the sun is safe for your child. Remember that infants and babies require protection from direct sunlight.
Treatment depends on the type of rickets your child has. For children who lack enough nutrients, the doctor will prescribe supplements for vitamin D and calcium. Your child’s pain and muscle weakness should get better within a few weeks. If your child has bone defects caused by rickets, they may need braces or surgery to correct the problem.
For children who inherit rickets or have an illness that caused rickets, you may need to see a specialist.
Living with rickets
Most cases of rickets go away once your child gets enough vitamin D. There may be lasting effects or defects that require further treatment, such as braces or surgery. Your child may need therapy as a result. It is possible that your child may require a strict diet in order to stay healthy.
Questions to ask your doctor
- What is the likely cause of my child’s rickets?
- Does my child need a vitamin D or calcium supplement? If so, for how long do they need to take it?
- What can I do at home to make sure my child gets enough vitamin D?
- Is it safe to let my child be in the sun without sunscreen?
- What are the possible complications of rickets?
- Is my child at risk of any long-term health problems?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.