Osteomalacia refers to a softening of your bones, often caused by a vitamin D deficiency. In children, this condition is called rickets. Soft bones are more likely to bow and fracture than are harder, healthy bones.
Osteomalacia is not the same as osteoporosis, another bone disorder that can also lead to bone fractures. Osteomalacia results from a defect in the bone-building process, while osteoporosis develops due to a weakening of previously constructed bone.
Muscle weakness and achy bone pain are the major sign and symptom of osteomalacia. Treatment for osteomalacia involves replenishing low levels of vitamin D and calcium, and treating any underlying disorders that may be causing the deficiencies.
In the early stages, you may have no osteomalacia symptoms, although signs of osteomalacia may be apparent on X-ray pictures or other diagnostic tests. As osteomalacia worsens, you may experience bone pain and muscle weakness.
Your body uses calcium and phosphate to build strong bones. Osteomalacia may occur if you don't get enough of these minerals in your diet or if your body doesn't absorb them properly. These problems may be caused by:
The risk of developing osteomalacia is highest in people who have both inadequate dietary intake of vitamin D and little exposure to sunlight, such as older adults and those who are housebound or hospitalized.
If you have osteomalacia, you're more likely to experience broken bones, particularly in your ribs, spine and legs.
Preparing for your appointment
While you may initially consult your family physician, he or she may refer you to a rheumatologist — a doctor who specializes in arthritis and other diseases of the joints, muscles and bones — or an endocrinologist, a doctor who specializes in metabolic disorders.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions ahead of time will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important, in case time runs out. For osteomalacia, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
In order to pinpoint the underlying cause of osteomalacia and to rule out other bone disorders, such as osteoporosis, you may undergo one or more of the following tests:
Treatments and drugs
When osteomalacia arises from a dietary or sunlight deficiency, replenishing low levels of vitamin D in your body usually cures the condition.
Generally, people with osteomalacia take vitamin D supplements by mouth for a period of several weeks to several months. Less commonly, vitamin D is given as an injection or through a vein in your arm.
If your blood levels of calcium or phosphorus are low, you may take supplements of those minerals as well. In addition, treating any condition affecting vitamin D metabolism, such as kidney failure or primary biliary cirrhosis, often helps improve the signs and symptoms of osteomalacia.
Osteomalacia caused by inadequate sun exposure or a diet low in vitamin D often can be prevented. Here are a few suggestions to help reduce your risk of developing osteomalacia:
Last Updated: 2011-05-03
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