What Causes Rickets?

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  • Written By: Nicole Long
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2019
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Various causes of rickets exist. A nutritional deficiency related to a lack of vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate, causes rickets most commonly. The three types of rickets are nutritional, hypophosphatemic, and renal, and all three are attributable to nutritional deficiencies.

Rickets is a softening or weakening of the bones. The cause of the disease went unknown for centuries and was once a common ailment. Scientists in the 1920s were able to pinpoint what causes rickets, and the number of occurrences was reduced. This has since changed, and the number of rickets cases seem to be on the rise.

Children six to twenty-four months old are most susceptible to the development of rickets. Those living in poverty-stricken countries and communities also run a greater risk of developing it. Children being brought up in a family environment that follows a vegan diet also should be monitored for proper nutritional intake and support.

Nutritional rickets is one form of rickets. The cause of nutritional rickets, also referred to as osteomalacia, is a lack of vitamin D in the diet. Within the body, vitamin D serves several important purposes. Without the proper amount of vitamin D, the absorption of calcium isn’t high enough to support the formation of bones and teeth.


Low levels of phosphate are the root cause of hypophosphatemic rickets. Without phosphate, bones become pliable and soft. Unlike nutritional rickets, hypophosphatemic rickets is usually linked to a genetic disorder and not nutritional inadequacies. Patients that suffer from this form of rickets simply don’t absorb phosphate at an appropriate level due to the kidney’s inability to control the excretion of phosphate.

Renal rickets are another possible form of rickets. Patients with renal rickets typically suffer from a kidney disorder. Various types of kidney disorders causes rickets and can impact the kidney’s ability to regulate the absorption of calcium, phosphate, and other electrolytes.

Treatment for rickets depends on the type of rickets the patient has been diagnosed with. For nutritional rickets, vitamin D supplements, increased exposure to sunlight in a safe manner, and a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D is the prescribed treatment. Hypophosphatemic and renal rickets require supplements to replace lost phosphate and calcium.

Those diagnosed with rickets early have an excellent prognosis once what causes rickets is determined. With appropriate treatment, bones have a chance to heal and form correctly without surgical intervention. In severe cases, patients may experience permanent bone changes, such as curving of the bone.


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