From WikiMD's Health & Wellness Encyclopedia

Rickets is a disease that happens in young children. It happens in children who do not get enough vitamin D and calcium. It causes larger spaces inside bones, and makes them dry, like sponges. It can make the legs curve toward each other (so the knees touch) or away from each other.


Other names

Other Names: Vitamin-D deficiency rickets; Nutritional rickets; Hypovitaminosis D

Rickets in adults is called osteomalacia.


The word "rickets" comes from the Greek word rhakhis, which means "spine."


Rickets is due to a deficiency of vitamin D in children. Vitamin D helps growing bones absorb important nutrients.

Rickets wrist
Rickets wrist

Risk factors

A child might not get enough vitamin D if he or she:

  • Has dark skin
  • Spends too little time outside
  • Has on sunscreen all the time when out of doors
  • Doesn't eat foods containing vitamin D because of lactose intolerance or a strict vegetarian diet
  • Is breastfed without receiving vitamin D supplements
  • Can't make or use vitamin D because of a medical disorder such as celiac disease
  • Has an inherited disorder that affects vitamin D levels

Sources of vitamin D

  • Vitamin D comes from sunlight and food.
  • Skin produces vitamin D in response to the sun's rays.
  • Some foods also contain vitamin D, including fortified dairy products and cereals, and some kinds of fish.


  • Rickets can be prevented if a person gets plenty of calcium and vitamin D.
  • Get a lot of sunlight, and eat foods that have a lot of vitamin D and calcium in them or take vitamin D supplements along with calcium.


The signs and symptoms of rickets include:

  • Bone pain or tenderness
  • Bowed (curved) legs
  • Large forehead
  • Stunted growth
  • Abnormally curved spine
  • Large abdomen
  • Abnormally shaped ribs and breastbone
  • Wide wrist and elbow joints
  • Teeth abnormalities
X-ray of Hands Identifying Rickets
X-ray of Hands Identifying Rickets


  • Rickets is typically diagnosed using specific blood tests and x-rays.
  • Blood tests usually show low levels of calcium and phosphorus and high levels of alkaline phosphatase.
  • Bone x-rays may show areas with calcium loss or changes in bone shape.
  • Bone biopsies are rarely performed, but can confirm the diagnosis of rickets.


  • The treatment for rickets depends on the cause of the condition.
  • If rickets is caused by a lack of vitamin D in the diet, then it is usually treated with carefully adjusted levels of vitamin D and calcium.
  • The child's condition may improve within a few weeks of treatment.
  • If rickets is caused by an inherited disorder or another medical condition, a healthcare provider would determine the appropriate treatment.

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Contributors: Prab R. Tumpati, MD