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What is Rickets, its causes, symptoms and treatment in children?

Rickets is a disorder caused mainly by a vitamin deficiency, a deficiency of vitamin D, calcium or phosphorus, which results in a softening and weakening of the bones. Most cases of rickets are due to these deficiencies, although they can also be hereditary.

Vitamin D helps bones absorb calcium and phosphorus from food, and when an infant or child doesn’t get enough vitamin D, their bones don’t get the nutrients they need for proper bone formation and growth.

The youngest children, between 6 to 24 months, have the highest risk of rickets since, in this period, the bones are proliferating. It is why paediatricians often recommend a vitamin D supplement for babies.

Rickets can be prevented by an adequate intake of calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D. Gastrointestinal, liver or kidney disorders that make it difficult to absorb vitamin D should be treated by specialists to avoid rickets, as well as monitoring the levels of calcium and phosphorus in the body.

There are babies more exposed to vitamin D deficiency, those in whom the following characteristics occur: they have dark skin, do not receive exposure to the sun without sunscreen or do not eat foods rich in vitamin D.

Fortunately, this childhood bone disease currently has little incidence in our environment and can be prevented, as we have pointed out.

It is characterised by growth retardation, accompanied by deformities of the bones, and is more common in children between 6 months and three years since it is the fastest-growing stage.

Rickets is a disorder in the mineralisation process of the bones and cartilage that are still growing. Therefore, this disease only occurs in children. 

The bone mineralisation process depends on a balance between calcium and phosphorus, and this homeostasis is regulated by vitamin D. 99% of the body’s calcium is found in the bones. When the levels of this in the body decrease, the parathyroid hormone increases, which, in turn, causes a reduction in phosphorus levels.

The child is in the doctor’s office undergoing a medical examination to determine if he has rickets.


Rickets can be due to a decrease in the levels of these minerals, as well as vitamin D. The main symptoms are :

Stunted growth

Deformations in the bones, which become soft: the most common is the bowing of the legs’ bones. Wear can also occur at the ends of some bones.

Other symptoms, such as seizures, may also occur due to deficient calcium levels in the blood. Occasionally, Changes in the teeth, cramps and muscle weakness also appear.

Causes of rickets

The most common cause of this disease, as we have said, is vitamin D deficiency. 

Vitamin D deficiency

When our body is deficient, the intestinal calcium that comes from food cannot be incorporated into the body. The same thing happens with phosphorus.

Thus, the levels of these minerals in the blood decrease, and the body tries to restore them by extracting them from the bones, where sones soften and deform easily.

As the disease became known and studied, rare rickets due to lack of this vitamin have significantly decreased, at least in developed countries. It is thanks to prevention campaigns and the administration of it systematically in all children.

Diagnosis and treatment of rickets

The diagnosis of rickets is based on the combination of abnormal laboratory and radiographic results and typical clinical symptoms.

With a blood test, low levels of phosphorus or calcium can be detected, as well as the enzyme alkaline phosphatase or vitamin D.

Treatment generally consists of oral administration of calciferol. However, there are cases of rickets in which this is not effective. They are usually cases due to low levels of phosphorus in the body due to losses through the kidney.

As a preventive measure, approximately 400 IU of vitamin D are administered daily to all children from birth to 2 years of age. Other ways of obtaining vitamin D are through diet and sun exposure.

Rickets is a bone disorder caused mainly by vitamin D deficiency in children. It can be prevented with an adequate intake of vitamin D, as well as with exposure to sunlight, although in a controlled way.

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