Osteomalacia – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatment
What is osteomalacia?
Osteomalacia refers to softening of the bones. This condition most often occurs due to vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D helps our body absorb calcium. Our body needs calcium to maintain the strength and hardness of your bones.
What causes osteomalacia?
Osteomalacia is caused by calcium deficiency. Vitamin D is absorbed from food or produced by the skin when exposed to sunlight. Less vitamin D is produced by the skin in people who:
- Live in climates with little exposure to sunlight
- Must stay indoors
- Work indoors during the daylight hours
- Wear clothes that cover most of their skin
- Have dark skin pigmentation
- Use very strong sunscreen
The following reasons lead to not getting enough vitamin D from diet:
- Lactose intolerance (problem digesting milk products)
- Not eating or drinking milk products (more common in older adults)
- Eating only a vegetarian diet
- Problems with absorbing vitamin D well in the intestines, such as after gastric bypass surgery
The following conditions may also cause osteomalacia:
- Lack of enough phosphates in the diet
- Kidney failure and acidosis
- Liver disease, and therefore cannot convert vitamin D to its active form
- Side effects of medicines used to treat seizures
What are the symptoms of osteomalacia?
The following are the symptoms of osteomalacia:
- Widespread bone pain, especially in the hips
- Bone fractures that happen without a real injury
- Muscle weakness
The following symptoms may also occur due to low calcium level:
- Spasms of the hands or feet
- Numbness around the mouth
- Numbness of the arms and legs
How is osteomalacia diagnosed?
Your doctor will perform a physical exam and review your symptoms. The doctor may do some blood tests to check vitamin D, creatinine, calcium, phosphate, electrolytes, alkaline phosphatase, and parathyroid hormone levels.
The doctor may also do bone x-rays and a bone density test to help detect pseudofractures, bone loss, and bone softening.
Sometimes, the doctor may do a bone biopsy to see if bone softening is present.
How is osteomalacia treated?
Your doctor may treat osteomalacia by recommending oral supplementation of vitamin D, calcium, and phosphorus. People who cannot absorb nutrients well through the intestines may be given larger doses of vitamin D and calcium. This includes people who have some types of weight loss surgery.
The doctor may decide to do regular blood tests to monitor blood levels of phosphorus and calcium in some people with certain conditions.
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.