What is Osteomalacia?
Osteomalacia means “soft bones.” Osteomalacia is a disease that weakens bones and can cause them to break more easily. It is a disorder of decreased mineralization, which results in bone breaking down faster than it can re-form. It is a condition that occurs in adults. In children, inadequate concentrations of vitamin D may cause rickets. Osteomalacia is a weakening of the bones. Problems with the bone formation or the bone-building process cause osteomalacia.
This condition isn’t the same as osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a weakening of living bone that’s already formed and being remodeled.
SYMPTOMS AND CAUSES
What causes Osteomalacia?
Osteomalacia develops most commonly due to a vitamin D deficiency (often from not getting enough sunlight), or less frequently, due to a digestive or kidney disorder. Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption and for maintaining bone health. These disorders can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb vitamins. There are also rare genetic conditions that can cause osteomalacia. Vitamin D also helps maintain calcium and phosphate levels to help your bones form properly. It’s made within the skin from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight. It can also be absorbed from foods like dairy products and fish.
What are the symptoms of Osteomalacia?
There are a few symptoms of osteomalacia.
The most common are bones that fracture easily. Another is muscle weakness. This happens because of problems in the areas where the muscle attaches to the bone. A person may have a hard time walking or may develop a waddling gait.
Bone pain, especially in your hips, is also a common symptom.
Dull, aching pain can spread from your hips to the following places:
- lower back
If you also have very low levels of calcium in your blood, you may have:
- irregular heart rhythms
- numbness around your mouth
- numbness in your arms and legs
- spasms in your hands and feet
DIAGNOSIS AND TESTS
How is Osteomalacia diagnosed?
There are various tests that can be performed to determine if someone has osteomalacia.
- The most important indicator is low levels of vitamin D, but low levels of calcium or a significant drop in phosphate levels may also indicate osteomalacia.
- X-rays may be taken to see if there is any evidence.
- A bone mineral density scan may be helpful in evaluating the amount of calcium and other minerals present in a patient’s bone segment. These scans are not required to make the diagnosis of osteomalacia. However, they may give important information about a patient’s bone health.
Rarely, the doctor may perform a bone biopsy, in which a sample of bone tissue is taken and examined.
MANAGEMENT AND TREATMENT
How is Osteomalacia treated?
Patients can take vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate supplements, depending on the individual case. For instance, people with intestinal malabsorption (the intestines cannot absorb nutrients or vitamins properly) may need to take larger quantities of vitamin D and calcium.
Other treatments to relieve or correct osteomalacia symptoms may include:
- Wearing braces to reduce or prevent bone irregularities
- Surgery to correct bone deformities (in severe cases)
- Adequate exposure to sunlight
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