Osteomalacia is a condition that softens the bones. It can result in symptoms such as muscle weakness and bone fractures. Vitamin D supplements can help treat the condition.

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Osteomalacia, also known as soft bone disease, is a weakening of the bones. The condition stops your bones from hardening, which can cause them to become weak and more vulnerable to breaks and fractures.

Osteomalacia can occur due to a lack of calcium in the bones. Vitamin D deficiency commonly causes it. Oral supplements typically treat it.

Here’s what you need to know about osteomalacia symptoms, causes, treatment, and more.

Common symptoms of osteomalacia include:

Bone pain, especially in your hips, is also a common symptom of osteomalacia. You may develop a dull, aching pain, which can spread from your hips to the following places:

A lack of vitamin D is the most common cause of osteomalacia. Vitamin D is an important nutrient that helps your body effectively absorb calcium, which is needed to build and maintain strong bones.

Vitamin D is made within the skin from exposure to the UV rays in sunlight. It can also be absorbed from foods like dairy products and fish. Your body can’t process the calcium your bones need to stay strong if you have low levels of vitamin D.

A vitamin D deficiency can result from:

  • a lack of sun exposure
  • taking medication that interferes with the absorption of vitamin D, such as antiseizure drugs
  • not getting enough vitamin D from your diet

Your body may also have a problem absorbing vitamin D or breaking down food to release it if you’ve had surgery to remove parts of your stomach or small intestine.

Certain health conditions can also interfere with the absorption of vitamin D, including:

  • celiac disease, which can damage the lining of your intestines and prevent the absorption of key nutrients like vitamin D
  • certain types of cancer, such as breast and lung cancer, which can interfere with vitamin D processing
  • certain types of liver disease, which can affect the metabolism of vitamin D
  • chronic kidney disease

A diet that doesn’t include phosphates can cause phosphate depletion, which can also lead to osteomalacia.

When osteomalacia is detected early, you may only need to take oral vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate supplements. This may be the first line of treatment if you have absorption problems due to intestinal injury or surgery, or a diet low in key nutrients.

It can also be beneficial to spend some time outdoors in sunlight so your body can make enough vitamin D.

If an underlying condition is causing your osteomalacia, a doctor will typically recommend treating it first to alleviate osteomalacia symptoms.

Children with severe cases of osteomalacia or rickets may have to wear braces or get surgery to correct bone deformation.

If you don’t treat the cause of your osteomalacia, it can result in several complications. Adults can fracture bones easily, such as rib, leg, and spine bones.

In children, osteomalacia and rickets often occur together, which can lead to bowing (outward curve) of the legs or premature tooth loss.

It’s important to keep in mind that symptoms may return if you stop taking vitamin D supplements or if you don’t address underlying conditions like kidney failure.

You may see improvements in a few weeks by increasing your vitamin D, calcium, and phosphorus intake. Complete healing of the bones can take anywhere from several months to a year.

To diagnose osteomalacia, a healthcare professional typically orders a blood test. If it shows any of the following, you may have osteomalacia or another bone disorder:

While a general blood test is the most common method of diagnosing osteomalacia, a healthcare professional may also order the following tests:

  • ALP bone isoenzyme test: High levels can indicate that you have osteomalacia.
  • Parathyroid hormone (PTH) test: High levels of this hormone suggest insufficient vitamin D.
  • X-rays and other imaging tests: These tests can highlight if there are small cracks in your bones. These cracks are called Looser transformation zones. Fractures can begin in these zones, even with small injuries.
  • Bone biopsy: This method is rarely used. It involves a healthcare professional inserting a needle through your skin and muscle and into your bone to get a small sample. The sample is then placed on a slide and examined under a microscope for signs of osteomalacia.

Usually, an X-ray and blood test are enough to make a diagnosis, and a bone biopsy isn’t necessary.

Because osteomalacia can occur from vitamin D deficiency, consuming more foods and drinks rich in this essential nutrient can be beneficial.

Foods high in vitamin D include:

If osteomalacia is interfering with your daily life, consider speaking with a healthcare professional, such as a dietitian. They can recommend a personalized dietary plan to help alleviate your symptoms.

Is osteomalacia the same as osteoporosis?

Osteomalacia is often confused with osteoporosis, but they are not the same. Both conditions cause the bones to weaken. However, osteoporosis is a weakening of living bone that’s already formed, while osteomalacia occurs when new bone cannot harden.

Are there different types of osteomalacia?

Because osteomalacia has several different causes, each with its own treatment options, some experts suggest there are various types of the condition. In this case, the type of osteomalacia can be characterized by the nutritional deficiency causing the condition, such as vitamin D or phosphate deficiency.

Is osteomalacia the same as rickets?

Rickets and osteomalacia are different conditions. Rickets impairs new bone growth in children, whereas osteomalacia can develop in adults and children. Both conditions can result in soft and weak bones due to nutrient deficiencies.

Osteomalacia, also known as soft bone disease, is a condition that weakens the bones. It’s commonly caused by vitamin D deficiency and a lack of calcium in the bones.

Osteomalacia can result in symptoms such as muscle weakness and make you vulnerable to breaks and fractures. If left untreated, it can lead to broken bones and severe deformity.

If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of osteomalacia, consider speaking with a healthcare professional. Various treatment options are available to help manage the condition. When it’s found early, you may only need to take oral supplements to treat symptoms.