Nutritional rickets & osteomalacia: a practical approach to management

Suma Uday, Wolfgang Högler

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Defective mineralization of the growth plate and preformed osteoid result in rickets and osteomalacia, respectively. The leading cause of rickets worldwide is solar vitamin D deficiency and/or dietary calcium deficiency collectively termed as nutritional rickets. Vitamin D deficiency predominates in high-latitude countries in at-risk groups (dark skin, reduced sun exposure, infants and pregnant and lactating women) but is emerging in some tropical countries due to sun avoidance behaviour. Calcium deficiency predominates in tropical countries, especially in the malnourished population. Nutritional rickets can have devastating health consequences beyond bony deformities (swollen wrist and ankle joints, rachitic rosary, soft skull, stunting and bowing) and include life-threatening hypocalcaemic complications of seizures and, in infancy, heart failure due to dilated cardiomyopathy. In children, diagnosis of rickets (always associated with osteomalacia) is confirmed on radiographs (cupping and flaring of metaphyses) and should be suspected in high risk individuals with the above clinical manifestations in the presence of abnormal blood biochemistry (high alkaline phosphatase and parathyroid hormone, low 25-hydroxyvitamin D and calcium and/or low phosphate). In adults or adolescents with closed growth plates, osteomalacia presents with non-specific symptoms (fatigue, malaise and muscle weakness) and abnormal blood biochemistry, but only in extreme cases, it is associated with radiographic findings of Looser's zone fractures. Bone biopsies could confirm osteomalacia at earlier disease stages, for definitive diagnosis. Treatment includes high-dose cholecalciferol or ergocalciferol daily for a minimum of 12 wk or stoss therapy in exceptional circumstances, each followed by lifelong maintenance supplementation. In addition, adequate calcium intake through diet or supplementation should be ensured. Preventative approaches should be tailored to the population needs and incorporate multiple strategies including targeted vitamin D supplementation of at-risk groups and food fortification with vitamin D and/or calcium. Economically, food fortification is certainly the most cost-effective way forward.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)356-367
JournalIndian Journal of Medical Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 28 Dec 2020


  • calcium
  • hormone
  • hypocalcaemic
  • micronutrient
  • multivitamin
  • nutrition
  • rickets
  • skin
  • sunlight
  • vitamin D


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