What is rickets?


Know the basics

What is rickets?

Rickets is a disorder caused by an extreme lack of vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate in children. It leads to softening and weakening of the bones.

How common is rickets?

Rickets is common in developing countries. Children who are between 6 and 36 months old are at the highest risk of rickets because they are still growing. Children might not get enough vitamin D if they live in a region with little sunlight, follow a vegetarian diet, or don’t drink milk products.

Know the symptoms

What are the symptoms of rickets?

Signs and symptoms of rickets can include:

  • Delayed growth;
  • Pain in the spine, pelvis and legs;
  • Muscle weakness.

Rickets can affect your child’s growth because it weakens the bones, leading to deformities in the child, such as:

  • Bowed legs or knock knees;
  • Thickened wrists and ankles;
  • Breastbone projection.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If your child has any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your child’s condition.

Know the causes

What causes rickets?

Rickets can occur if your child’s body doesn’t get enough vitamin D from sunlight and food. Vitamin D is vital to bone health because it help your body absorb calcium and phosphorus from food. Not getting enough vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus can cause rickets.

Sometimes, certain medical condition can cause problems using vitamin D properly. Some examples include:

  • Celiac disease;
  • Inflammatory bowel disease;
  • Cystic fibrosis;
  • Kidney problems.

Rickets can be inherited from the parents as well. In these cases, the child requires very specialized medical care.

Know the risk factors

What increases my risk for rickets?

Factors that can increase a child’s risk of rickets include:

  • Dark skin. Dark skin produces less vitamin D.
  • Mother’s vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy. A baby born to a mother with severe vitamin D deficiency can be born with signs of rickets or develop them within a few months after birth.
  • Northern latitudes. Children who live in geographical locations where there is less sunshine are at higher risk of rickets.
  • Premature birth. Babies born before their due dates are more likely to develop rickets.
  • Certain types of anti-seizure medications and antiretroviral medications, used to treat HIV infections, appear to interfere with the body’s ability to use vitamin D.
  • Exclusive breast-feeding. Breast milk doesn’t contain enough vitamin D to prevent rickets. Babies who are exclusively breast-fed should receive vitamin D drops.
  • Low calcium. Children with rickets usually take in less than 300 mg of calcium per day (about one cup of milk). Growing children need from 400 mg (babies) to 1500 mg (teens in the adolescent growth spurt) of calcium daily for good bone health.
  • Poor diet. Children adopted from abroad or other children experiencing extreme poverty sometimes have rickets due to a poor diet history.

What are the complications of rickets?

Left untreated, rickets can lead to:

  • Failure to grow;
  • Abnormally curved spine;
  • Skeletal deformities;
  • Dental defects;
  • Seizures.

Understand the diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is rickets diagnosed?

Your doctor will diagnosed by checking your child’s bones. They will pay special attention to the child’s:

  • SkullBabies who have rickets often have softer skull bones and might have a delay in the closure of the soft spots (fontanels). While even healthy toddlers are a little bowlegged, an exaggerated bowing of the legs is common with rickets.
  • ChestSome children with rickets develop abnormalities in their rib cages, which can flatten and cause their breastbones to protrude.
  • Wrists and ankles. Children who have rickets often have wrists and ankles that are larger or thicker than normal.

Other tests are used to help diagnose rickets include:

  • X-rays;
  • Blood and urine test.

How is rickets treated?

Children with rickets should make sure they are getting enough vitamin D from food or sunlight. If they are not, supplements will be used to aid in the treatment. Your child should get 1000-2000 international units (IU) per day. Sometimes much higher levels of Vitamin D are used under a doctor’s care. Calcium intake should be 1000-1500 mg/day, whether by calcium-rich food or by supplementation.

Children with inherited rickets are usually treated by an expert in hormones (endocrinologist).

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage rickets?

To prevent rickets, make sure your child eats foods that contain vitamin D or that have been fortified with vitamin D, such as:

  • Fish oils;
  • Fatty fish(salmon, sardines, and tuna);
  • Shiitake mushrooms;
  • Egg yolks;
  • Infant formula;
  • Cereal;
  • Bread;
  • Milk, but not foods made from milk, such as yogurt and cheese;
  • Orange juice.

If you’re pregnant, ask your doctor about taking vitamin D supplements.

Because human milk contains only a small amount of vitamin D, all breast-fed infants should receive 400 international units (IU) of oral vitamin D daily. The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends that breast-fed infants or those who drink less than 33.8 ounces (1 liter) of infant formula a day to take an oral vitamin D supplement.

Exposure to sunlight provides the best source of vitamin D. Your skin produces vitamin D when it’s exposed to sunlight. When you do this, remember to have protective clothing or wear sunscreen for your child. However, sunscreen can block the sunlight. It’s the safest best to expose your child to sunlight before 7 am.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: December 4, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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