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Osteomalacia is a bone disease characterized by fragile and brittle bones, due to defects in bone matrix mineralization, which is usually caused by a deficiency of vitamin D. Since this vitamin is important for the absorption of calcium by the bone, when lacking, results in its demineralization.
Osteomalacia can be asymptomatic or cause symptoms such as bone discomfort or small fractures. In children, a lack of vitamin D and weakening of the bones is not known as osteomalacia, but rather as rickets. See what rickets is and how it is treated.
Whenever osteomalacia is suspected, it is very important to consult a general practitioner or orthopedist to confirm the diagnosis and initiate appropriate treatment, which may include adequate nutrition, medication intake and sun exposure.
Osteomalacia is often asymptomatic and, therefore, ends up being discovered only when a fracture occurs. However, there are some cases where the person may feel slight discomfort in the bones, especially in the hip area, which can end up making movement difficult.
Although it is rarer, osteomalacia can also result in skeletal deformities, especially if the treatment is done too late.
How to confirm the diagnosis
The diagnosis of osteomalacia is usually made by an orthopedist. To diagnose osteomalacia, the doctor may order blood and urine tests to assess the levels of vitamin D, phosphorus and calcium, alkaline phosphatase and parathyroid hormone, which are usually abnormal.
In addition, X-rays can also be performed to detect small fractures in the bones and identify other signs of bone demineralization.
The most common cause of osteomalacia is vitamin D deficiency, which may be related to any of the steps of its absorption, metabolism or action, and may occur in cases of:
- Low intake of foods with vitamin D;
- Low sun exposure;
- Stomach or bowel surgery, mainly bariatric surgery;
- Use of seizure medications such as phenytoin or phenobarbital;
- Intestinal malabsorption;
- Kidney failure;
- Liver disease.
Although it is very rare, certain types of cancer can also alter the levels of vitamin D in the body.
How the treatment is done
The aim of treatment is to correct the underlying cause of osteomalacia, which can be achieved through:
- Supplementation with calcium, phosphorus and/or vitamin D;
- Increased consumption of foods rich in calcium and vitamin D. Know which foods are rich in calcium and which are rich in vitamin D;
- Daily 15-minute sun exposure early in the morning, without sunscreen.
Watch the following video and see more tips to strengthen bones:
If osteomalacia is caused by intestinal malabsorption syndrome, kidney failure, or liver problems, the disease must first be treated. In addition, in some cases, surgery may be necessary to correct bone deformities.