Osteomalacia is a condition wherein the softening of bones occurs, usually caused by severe vitamin D deficiency. Softened bones of children and young adults result in bowing of the bones during growth, particularly the weight-bearing bones of the legs. In older individuals it causes fractures.
Treatment involves providing adequate amounts of vitamin D and calcium, both needed to strengthen bones, as well as the treatment of underlying disorders which could have caused the condition.
In the initial stage, there may not be any symptoms, even though signs of osteomalacia may be evident on an X-ray. As the condition progresses, bone pain and muscular weakness develop.
There will be a dull, aching pain, commonly in the ribs, lower back, hips, and legs. Pain aggravates at night, or when pressure is applied on the bones, and is allayed completely by rest.
There will be diminished muscle tone and leg weakness which triggers a waddling gait, making walking slow and difficult.
What Are The Causes Of Osteomalacia?
Osteomalacia occurs due to an anomaly in the bone-maturing process. You tend to develop osteomalacia if you don’t get sufficient amounts of calcium and phosphorus in your diet or if the body fails to absorb them correctly. This condition is caused by:
- Vitamin D deficit: Sunlight produces vitamin D in your skin. Those who live where the sunlight hours are short or consume inadequate amounts of vitamin D develop osteomalacia.
- Certain surgeries: The stomach breaks down food to release vitamin D. This process gets impaired if you have had a procedure to excise a section of or all of the stomach, and consequently results in vitamin D and calcium deficiency. Surgical intervention to excise or bypass the small intestine also causes vitamin D and calcium insufficiency.
- Celiac disease: An autoimmune disease, eating foods containing gluten damages the lining of the small intestine. When the lining of the small intestine gets damaged, it fails to absorb the nutrients well, and sets off vitamin D and calcium deficits.
- Kidney or liver diseases: The kidney and the liver activate vitamin D in your body. If you have a malfunctioning liver or kidney, it interferes with the body’s capacity to make active vitamin D.
- Medications to treat seizures can cause severe vitamin D deficiency and osteomalacia.
Diagnosis And Treatment Of Osteomalacia
Osteomalacia can be rather difficult to diagnose. You need to carry out a couple of tests to ascertain the precise cause.
- Blood and urine tests: To help analyze low levels of vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus.
- X-rays: Slight cracks will be seen in the bones which are typical of osteomalacia.
- Bone biopsy: A surgeon will introduce a needle through the skin and into the pelvic bone to remove a small section of your bone. Bone biopsy is a very precise method to detect osteomalacia, however, it is hardly ever required to make the diagnosis.
Once your health care provider has established the presence of osteomalacia, he will prescribe vitamin D oral supplements for a couple of months. In order to maintain normal levels of vitamin D, you need to continue to take the supplements.
He may also advise calcium and / or phosphorus supplements. Treating conditions which influence vitamin D metabolism, such as kidney and liver diseases or low phosphate levels, are very vital to deal with osteomalacia too.