Nutrition plays important roles in the human body. While there are many supplements that help to provide nutrition, the best way remains to get it from food unless a person does have health conditions and needs to get certain nutrients through supplements alone. Deficiency of nutrients can lead to diseases. You may be wondering if osteomalacia or soft bone is a result of calcium deficiency. The answer is, no. In this DoctorOnCall’s article, we will be learning the true reason behind osteomalacia.
Osteomalacia may be confused with rickets as both are considered a condition of soft and weak bones. The differences between the two is rickets occur in children whereas osteomalacia in adults. Osteomalacia is characterised by incomplete mineralization of the bone due to deficiency of vitamin D. Hence, osteomalacia is a vitamin D deficiency and not calcium deficiency.
It is understandable why a person may be confused that osteomalacia may be caused by calcium deficiency. This is because vitamin D and calcium do have a strong connection when it comes to bone formation and strengthening the bone. Vitamin D is needed by the body to help absorb calcium gained from food we eat. The absorbed calcium is then used by the body to maintain the strength of the bones, thus creating strong bones. If the body has a low level of vitamin D, calcium cannot be utilised by the body. In short, vitamin D acts as the main carrier for calcium.
Osteomalacia in adults is usually due to prolonged deficiency of vitamin D which means a condition that is caused as a result of a long period of the body not receiving enough vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency gives signals to the body that the body is lacking calcium. Softening of the bone in osteomalacia happens when the calcium from the bones enter the bloodstream as an attempt for the body to increase the calcium level in the blood.
Vitamin D deficiency can be caused by many conditions. It could be from a person living in cold climates with little exposure to sunlight, less exposure to the sunlight due to indoor works and those that cannot be exposed to sunlight due to medical conditions. Common causes of vitamin D deficiency include those not getting enough vitamin D from diet such as not eating dairy products, those following vegetarian diets or are lactose intolerant. Those with medical conditions associated with the body unable to fully absorb vitamin D such as from gastric bypass surgery or other digestive issues and certain liver or kidney disorders affecting the ability of the body to utilise vitamin D, may have risk for osteomalacia.
Osteomalacia is much more than soft bones and easily broken bones. People with osteomalacia usually feel pain and stiffness of the limb along with weak muscles in the arms and thighs. They often feel tired and may have weird ways of walking compared to normal people. Doctors usually diagnose a person with osteomalacia based on symptoms and after additional tests such as blood test to measure level of vitamin D, imaging test such as x-ray to get close look of bone structures and bone mineral density scans.
Treatment of osteomalacia usually revolves around getting vitamin D from food or supplements. Spending time in the sun can help increase vitamin D in the body but do talk with healthcare providers before doing this and always use sunscreen to protect the skin. In cases of osteomalacia caused by trouble in absorbing vitamin D, underlying causes need to be investigated and treated. In severe cases, a person may need to use brace or undergo surgery to help improve the conditions.
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