Osteomalacia, also commonly known as rickets in children, is a general term for the softening of the bone. It is caused by a deficiency in the bone-building process. A deficiency in vitamin D, whether through lack of sun exposure which prompts the production of vitamin D, through an insufficient intake of dietary vitamin D, or through a disorder that interferes with the absorption of vitamin D in the digestive tract, osteomalacia can cause bones to bow or fracture.
In the early stages, osteomalacia may only be detected through x-rays, bone scans or bone biopsies and blood tests to assess vitamin D levels. As it progresses, achy bone pain and muscle weakness are the major signs and symptoms. Diagnosis and treatment is essential not only for general pain-free mobility, but to prevent more serious complications, such as low blood-calcium levels, known as hypocalcemia.
Hypocalcemia can occur because vitamin D facilitates absorption of calcium in the intestinal tract. Calcium is vital for proper heart function. A decreased amount of calcium can lead to an irregular heart rhythm and eventually, heart failure. If experiencing spasms in hands and feet, numbness around mouth or in legs or arms, tachycardia or an irregular heartbeat, or seizure activity along with bone pain and muscle weakness, it is crucial to consult with a qualified medical professional to decrease the risks of further physical, potentially life-threatening complications that can be associated with osteomalacia.
Treatment of osteomalacia includes replenishing vitamin D through sun exposure and/or dietary alterations. Vitamin D supplements are also common. Supplements can be taken orally, or if deficiency is severe enough, via injection.
Prevention, however, may be the best treatment option. By simply allowing a few minutes of sun time a day and increasing the vitamin D in your diet through things like fish, bread, milk and yogurt, you can significantly decrease the risks of osteomalacia. If unsure whether your diet of choice offers enough vitamin D, over-the-counter supplements may be useful. Regular exercise, especially weight bearing exercises such as walking, can help strengthen the bones.
Most people diagnosed with osteomalacia, with proper treatment, see improvement within a few weeks, though full recovery may take anywhere up to six months. Prevention, the best treatment option, however, is an ongoing venture. The body needs a steady source of vitamins, including vitamin D, and prolonged lapses in its presence will result in an increase in the risks of another bout with osteomalacia.