Osteomalacia

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What is osteomalacia?

Osteomalacia, or soft bones, often develops because of a lack of vitamin D. It causes severe bone pain and muscle weakness. In Victorian times the condition often affected children and was called rickets, but today osteomalacia usually affects adults, especially the elderly and/or people of South Asian origin. Read more >

What are the symptoms of osteomalacia?

Symptoms of osteomalacia can include:
  • pain felt in your bones – usually felt in your legs, groin, knees and feet
  • muscle weakness – usually affects your thighs, shoulders and main trunk of your body
  • back pain
  • pain caused by slight cracks in the bone (partial fractures) – sometimes these cracks can turn into complete breaks (complete fractures)

As the condition gets worse, pain can be felt everywhere and any movement can be painful.

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Who gets osteomalacia?

Anyone who’s lacking in vitamin D is likely to develop osteomalacia. The people most at risk are:
  • those who are unable to produce enough vitamin D through exposure to sunlight (e.g. they may be too ill to go outside, and the frail elderly may be at risk)
  • people whose diet is lacking in vitamin D and/or calcium (e.g. vegan and lacto-vegetarian diets, or people with a milk allergy (lactose intolerance)
  • some people of South Asian origin – darker skin doesn't absorb Vitamin D as efficiently in cooler climates, some foods commonly used South Asian cooking are low in Vitamin D, and women who wear clothes that cover all their skin for religious reasons will get less exposure of skin to direct sunlight
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What causes osteomalacia?

Bone is a living, active tissue that’s continually being removed and replaced. When normal bone is formed, the soft inner mesh of bone is coated by minerals (calcium and phosphorus). Vitamin D is necessary for this process to occur. The more mineral laid down, the stronger the bone. This process is called mineralisation.

A lack of vitamin D, calcium or phosphorus means that mineralisation doesn’t take place normally, and weak, soft bones are created. This is osteomalacia.

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What is the outlook for osteomalacia?

Most people with osteomalacia will get better with treatment, although a late diagnosis can make recovery more difficult. Read more >

How is osteomalacia diagnosed?

To diagnose osteomalacia, your doctor may ask about your diet and any family history of bone disorders. They may also suggest you have some tests. Read more >

What treatments are there for osteomalacia?

Treatment will cure osteomalacia in most cases, but relieving bone pain and muscle weakness may take several months:
  • Vitamin D tablets or capsules can be taken if you don’t receive enough exposure to sunlight.
  • Calcium supplements can be taken if you don’t get enough from your diet.
  • Painkillers may be needed while bone fractures heal.
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Self-help and daily living for osteomalacia

Try the following tips:
  • Do some exercise regularly to help strengthen your bones – anything that involves walking or running is very beneficial.
  • diet that includes vitamin D and calcium can help to prevent the condition.
  • Read more >

Research and new developments

There are different forms of vitamin D and research is investigating whether one form is more effective than another.

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BST Means Vitamin D

A plate of salmon and salad

Leading medical research charity Arthritis Research UK is using the first day of British Summer Time to remind groups at risk of vitamin D deficiency to beat Britain’s grey skies and top up their levels of the essential ‘sunshine’ vitamin.