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Rickets: Understanding the Causes and Patient Needs

Rickets is a disease most common in children, and often caused by vitamin D deficiencies. Symptoms include weak and fragile bones, bowed legs, muscle pain or discomfort (especially when the child is running), and swelling around the ankles and wrists.


The best treatment protocol for this disease comes from doctors in Germany: they recommend taking vitamin D supplements of 45 IU per day until the patient’s blood levels are high enough, then gradually tapering off to 10–15 IU per day. This protocol was originally discovered in 1982 at Berlin’s Institute of Physical Medicine but has since been confirmed by doctors all over the world.


Another treatment option is to take vitamin D in the form of cod liver oil. For example, the Carlson brand DHA/EPA omega-3 fish oils include 1000 IU of vitamin D per soft gel capsule. Vitamin D levels can be tested using a blood test, and doctors generally recommend keeping levels between 50–80 ng/ml.


Although cod liver oil is considered traditional medicine, it’s far better than standard protocols for treating rickets (which usually include calcium and phosphorus supplements). The German protocol is also better than taking high doses of vitamin D alone.


Rickets can strike both children and adults, but are generally more common in children. Children who have been weaned are susceptible, as their bones are growing and new cells are being created at a rapid rate. In the case of adult rickets, it's usually because the person has renal disease and doesn't have enough vitamin D to properly metabolize calcium from their diet. This is because when your kidneys start to fail, they're no longer able to properly filter waste products from the blood stream such as uric acid or phosphorus. That means these two substances start to accumulate in the bloodstream rather than be excreted out of it.


The theory behind rickets is that when the body doesn't get enough vitamin D from sunshine or food, it can actually start to break down calcium in the bones. The process of this breakdown is known as a calcium-skeletal disease. In a person without rickets, whenever there's more calcium in the bloodstream, the body adds vitamin D to help it be "used up" by making him or her absorb it faster. With rickets, this isn't happening fast enough and the calcium buildup continues even after all sources of "vitamin D" are exhausted. Eventually, this causes a collapse of bone structure and symptoms like bowed legs and seizures.


In early stages of rickets, your joints may feel stiff and cause tenderness. They'll also be more susceptible to broken bones or dislocations due to the weakened bone structure. Because of this, you should always wear seat belts when you get in a car regardless of where you are or what you're doing.


In more advanced cases of rickets, the calcification can span through most of your body including parts like your heart and lungs. In addition to the physical symptoms that accompany rickets such as seizures and mental disorders, some people with advanced cases have been known to develop kidney stones or other types of cancer related to calcium deposits in their bodies.

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