What is Osteomalacia?

Dr. Richard Bebb, MD, ABIM, FRCPC, Endocrinologist, discusses osteomalacia.

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Dr. Richard Bebb, MD, ABIM, FRCPC, Endocrinologist, discusses osteomalacia.
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Featuring Dr. Richard Bebb, MD, ABIM, FRCPC, Endocrinologist

Duration: 2 minutes, 35 seconds

Osteomalacia can be translated into English as softening of the bones, which in a sense is what it is. It’s primarily caused by severe vitamin D deficiency.

If you have vitamin D deficiency as a young child, before your bones are matured, that can lead to a condition called rickets, where the bones become deformed and bowed and your ultimate stature - your height - is attenuated or decreased.

In adults, we’ve already hit our peak height. So if you develop vitamin D deficiency, you develop osteomalacia. And in essence what it is, it’s a failure of calcification or calcium deposition into newly formed bone.

Our bones turn over continuously, somewhere around every eight years we’ve actually remodeled our bone skeleton. It’s a continual process. So if you develop severe vitamin D deficiency, this process is damaged and bones can be resorbed. The calcium can be taken out of them, but you can’t reform proper bones, and the calcium isn’t in there.

Most of the time, osteomalacia is caused by vitamin D deficiency, but there are some more rare syndromes, where patients are actually resistant to vitamin D, and it’s a genetic abnormality. However, for the most part it’s just a deficiency in the vitamin.

One of the reasons that we’re more vitamin D deficient in Western society relates to our efforts to prevent skin cancer. We’ve been successful in encouraging the public to use more skin block, which has had some impact on some of the types of skin cancer.

But unfortunately a good sunblock will completely turn off all vitamin D metabolism in the skin, and so in a sense it’s contributed to the lower levels of vitamin D in our populace and made it more necessary that we supplement by taking oral supplements to ensure we have enough vitamin D.

If you think you have a problem with your bones, bone pain or muscle weakness, and you’re concerned about osteomalacia, discuss it with your primary care practitioner.

Presenter: Dr. Richard Bebb, Endocrinologist, Vancouver, BC

Local Practitioners: Endocrinologist

This content is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.