Osteomalacia is a condition that refers to the softening of the bones, usually brought on by a lack of vitamin D. In children, this condition is commonly referred to as rickets. When one’s bones are soft, they are more prone to fractures than the harder, healthier bones.
Not to be confused with osteoporosis, which is a disease that can also lead to bone fractures; osteomalacia is a result of a defect in the bone-building process. Two major indicators of osteomalacia are aches in the bones and weakness in the muscles. Treatment requires restoring the low levels of vitamin D and calcium and addressing any other problems that might be contributing to these deficiencies.
The dull, aching feeling in the bones usually affects the lower spine, the pelvic region, and the legs. The patient may notice a decrease in muscle tone, some weakness in the arms and in the legs, and getting around as usual may become more difficult.
Our bodies need calcium and phosphate to build strong bones. Without enough of these minerals in one’s diet, or if one’s body does not effectively absorb them, osteomalacia may present. The causes of this may include an insufficient exposure to sunlight. When we sit in the sun, vitamin D is produced in our skin. We need this vitamin so that our bodies can process the calcium. For those individuals who spend little time in the sun or who wear strong sunscreen and remain fully covered while outside, or who live in areas where the sunlight hours are short or where the air is full of smog, may increase their likelihood of developing osteomalacia.
If one’s diet is low in vitamin D, osteomalacia is a concern, especially in those areas of the world where foods such as milk and cereal are not fortified with vitamin D as they are in the United States.
Certain surgical procedures, such as the removal of part or all of one’s stomach can contribute to the onset of osteomalacia, as the stomach serves to break down foods to release the vitamin D. Even surgery that requires the removal of the small intestine can create conditions prime for osteomalacia to develop.
The autoimmune disease known as celiac disease, which causes damage to the lining of the small intestine through foods that contain gluten, can be a contributing factor to osteomalacia. When one has celiac disease, the damaged intestinal lining does not absorb nutrients, including vitamin D, as effectively as a healthy intestine.
If someone is experiencing kidney or liver disorders, those, too, can interfere with the body’s ability to process vitamin D. Certain drugs used to treat seizures can also be an underlying cause of osteomalacia.
For those individuals who do not have an adequate amount of vitamin D in their diet and who get little exposure to sunlight, such as the elderly or those who are housebound or hospitalized, have an increased risk of developing osteomalacia.
When one has this disease, the bones most likely to fracture are the ribs, the spine, and the legs. When diagnosing this disease, the physician will most likely refer to one or more of these tests: blood and urine tests too, used to detect a vitamin D deficiency; x-rays to indicated slight cracks in the bones; and a bone biopsy for removing a small sample of bone matter for examination.
If this disease is a result of a dietary or sunlight deficiency, then the course of action is to replenish those low levels of vitamin D in the body. Usually patients will simply take vitamin D supplements for a period of time as directed by their doctor.
To prevent the onset of osteomalacia, try to spend a few minutes a day in the sun. For most people, 15 minutes daily of direct exposure is enough to contribute to proper vitamin D production. Be sure to eat foods that are high in vitamin D, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines. Foods fortified with vitamin D include cereal, bread, milk, and yogurt. If necessary, take supplements, but be sure to consult your physician first.
(Information for this article was found at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/osteomalacia/DS00935)
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