What is rickets?

Rickets is a bone disorder which affects children. Vitamin D or calcium deficiency causes the structure of the bone to become weak, and the long bones of the arms and legs become brittle and bent. Rickets has become a fairly rare condition due to vitamin supplements and fortified food. Children with rickets may have bone pain, and grow more slowly than other children. Rickets can be successfully treated by providing a sufficient amount of vitamin D and calcium through food or vitamin supplements. If left untreated, rickets can cause long-term growth problems.


Rickets occurs when a lack of vitamin D and calcium causes the structure of the bone to become weak. This causes the bones to become brittle and bent. Rickets has become a rare condition due to more awareness about the importance of vitamin supplements and fortified food. Calcium is taken into the body with food and vitamin D requires sunlight on the skin to become active. This condition can occur in children of any age, but children with a medical condition that affects the absorption of nutrients in the intestine are at higher risk of developing rickets. Children who do not get enough sun on their skin are also at risk of this condition.


The symptoms of rickets include bone pain and deformities of the bone, such as large bends in the spine or bowed legs. Children with rickets may grow more slowly than other children, and often have dental problems. Children with rickets are also more likely to break a bone after a relatively minor accident.


The diagnosis is based on a physical examination, blood tests and X-rays of the arms and legs. Blood tests may be done to check vitamin D and calcium levels.


Rickets is treated by increasing the intake of vitamin D and calcium. This can be achieved by eating more foods that are rich in vitamin D and calcium or by taking supplements. Spending time outside in the sunlight is also helpful. In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary to correct any bone deformities.


Rickets can be prevented by getting enough vitamin D and calcium. For older children good sources of vitamin D are oily fish, eggs or cereals with extra vitamins added. It is also recommended to eat enough foods that contain calcium, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, green vegetables, soy products and nuts. Regularly exposing the skin to sunlight is also important to prevent rickets. Children with darker skin may need more time in the sun to get enough vitamin D.

Other names for rickets

  • rachitis