Osteomalacia is a disease that causes softening of the bones in adults. When this disease occurs in children, it is known as rickets. Soft bones are much more prone to breaking or bending than hardened bones. This leads to increased risk of broken bones (fractures) and increased risk of falls, especially in older adults. Vitamin D deficiency is usually the cause of osteomalacia. Our bodies need vitamin D to absorb calcium from the foods we eat. Without vitamin D, our bodies do not get enough calcium for our bones and this causes the bones to become softened.
There are usually no symptoms in the early stages of osteomalacia. However, changes in the bones can usually be seen on x-ray images. As the disease progresses, symptoms include dull, aching bone pain and muscle weakness. Osteomalacia occurs as a result of vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency can develop as a result of surgery to the stomach or small intestine, disorders of the kidneys or liver, celiac disease, and some drugs used to treat seizures. People who have a lack of vitamin D in their diets or who have very little exposure to sunlight are also at risk for osteomalacia, as well as those of South Asian origin.
Osteomalacia is most often diagnosed through x-ray imaging, blood tests, or a bone biopsy. Treatment for osteomalacia involves increasing vitamin D and calcium intake, sometimes in the form of dietary supplements. Support groups are available as a resource for more information.