Rickets is an illness that occurs in children during the formative years of their bones and skeletal structure. Rickets occur when there is a lack of vitamin D, phosphorus, and calcium in the diet. Many children in developing countries are at risk for this disease. The word rickets is believed to have come from the Old English word, wrickken which means “to twist”. The scientific term for rickets is rachitis. This comes from the Greek, meaning, inflammation of the spine.
A lack of vitamin D is the most common cause of rickets. Calcium deficiency can also be a culprit. Many countries that have poor nutritional resources have high incidents of rickets. Diarrhea and vomiting from illnesses that are contracted from drinking and eating contaminated water and food, can lead to rickets as this quickly depletes the vitamins from the body.
While it is primarily children, in countries where famine and starvation in the early years of life are common occurrences, that develop rickets, it does occasionally occur in adults. There is a similar illness that occurs in aduts as a result of vitamin D deficiency. It is call osteomalacia.
There are several symptoms associated with rickets. They include dental issues, muscle weakness (often referred to as floppy baby syndrome), pain and/or tenderness in bones and joints, an increased tendency to break bones, skeletal deformities such as bowed legs or “knocked knees in older children, spinal and pelvic deformities and craniel deformities. Growth rates can be affected. A low level of calcium in the blood, known as hypocalcemia, tetany (an uncontrolled muscle spasm), a soft skull or craniotabes , costochondrial swelling and harrison’s groove are all symptoms of rickets. Harrison’s groove is a horizontal line that forms where the diaphragm attaches to the ribs. A widening of the wrists can be an early sign of rickets.
There are several types of rickets. They are congenital rickets, nutritional rickets, vitamin D resistant rickets, and both type I and type II vitamin D dependent rickets.
The causes of rickets include nutritional deficiencies and a lack of sunlight. Ironically, the increased use of sunblock to protect the skin from cancer causing rays has led to a resurgence of rickets because it also blocks the vitamin D and prevents it from being absorbed into the skin.
Foods that are rich in vitamin D are butter, margarine, eggs, fish liver oils, fortified milk and juice. Children in developing countries rarely have access to this foods.
Blood tests, blood gases, X-rays and bone biopsies are ways to identify the illness. The treatments for the illness are an increased intake of vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus whether it be in foods or a vitamin supplement. Increased exposure to sunlight in small doses can be beneficial. If an individual is worried about sun exposure, supplements are probably the best way to go if they don’t get the necessary nutrients from their diet. In severe cases, skeletal surgery may be necessary to repair the damage.