Osteomalacia: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment and Diet

Osteomalacia is a bone condition in which the bones become soft and brittle. It is caused by a deficiency of vitamin D, calcium, phosphate or due to a disease such as kidney failure.

Vitamin D and calcium are important for bone health. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and phosphate from food to keep bones healthy. If you don’t have enough vitamin D, your body can’t use calcium as well. This can lead to low levels of calcium in your blood (hypocalcemia), which makes your bones weak and brittle.

Osteomalacia is diagnosed with a blood test, which checks for low levels of vitamin D and calcium, as well as through x-rays to see if the bones are soft.


Osteomalacia is a bone disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin D. There are many causes of osteomalacia. The most common cause is vitamin D deficiency.

Other possible causes are:

  • Severe intestinal malabsorption: People with severe intestinal malabsorption may not be able to absorb enough vitamin D from food, which is then passed out in their faeces.
  • Malnutrition: People who are not eating a balanced diet or who have an underlying medical condition may not be getting enough vitamin D in their diet and can develop osteomalacia.
  • Hyperparathyroidism: This condition can lead to increased levels of calcium in the blood, which can cause the bones to become brittle and break easily.
  • Renal failure: People with renal failure have limited kidney function and cannot properly excrete excess calcium from their bodies, which can lead to osteomalacia.
  • Chronic corticosteroids: People taking long-term steroids that contain cortisone may be at risk of developing osteomalacia.
  • Liver diseases: People with liver disease may not be able to produce enough vitamin D from the cholesterol and bile in their blood.
  • Inadequate sunlight exposure: People who live in a northern climate or do not spend any time outside can develop osteomalacia as they cannot absorb enough vitamin D from sunlight.

Did You know?

If the person has a kidney transplant, osteomalacia is not likely because the new kidney will be able to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D.

Signs and Symptoms

Osteomalacia is a condition that is characterized by softening of the bones. The condition can be caused by a deficiency of Vitamin D or calcium.

Signs and symptoms of osteomalacia include:

  • Muscle weakness and pain
  • Bone pain
  • Joint pain
  • Backache
  • Decreased appetite, weight loss, and fatigue
  • Swelling in the hands and feet
  • Difficulty walking and climbing stairs
  • Tingling and numbness
  • Weakness in the limbs
  • Low energy levels
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Increased risk of fractures


The diagnosis of osteomalacia begins with a review of the patient’s medical history and physical examination. The doctor will ask about symptoms such as bone pain, muscle weakness, and bone fractures. The doctor will also ask about any recent weight loss or dietary changes that led to the condition.

The doctor will then perform an X-ray to see if there are any abnormalities in the bones that could be causing these symptoms. This can help identify if there are any underlying diseases or conditions that could be causing osteomalacia.

If an underlying disease or condition cannot be found, then it is possible that osteomalacia may have been caused by vitamin D deficiency, renal failure, or hyperparathyroidism.


The treatment for this condition is to improve the patient’s vitamin D levels. The treatment is dependent on the severity of the condition. In most cases, the condition can be treated with vitamin D supplements and calcium supplements. If the condition does not improve with these treatments, then bisphosphonates may be prescribed.

The severity of Osteomalacia is determined by how it affects your mobility, pain levels, and any other symptoms you are experiencing.


There are many ways to prevent osteomalacia.

  1. Taking supplements: Taking supplements that have calcium in them or increased levels of vitamin D helps prevent osteomalacia.
  2. Healthy Foods: by eating foods such as fish, dairy products, beans, and green leafy vegetables which contain calcium naturally without having to take any supplements.
  3. Exercising: The other way is by exercising, it can help strengthen muscles and bones as well as improve balance, posture, and weight bearing.


Complications of osteomalacia can be severe in some cases, especially if it is left untreated for a long time. Complications include: –

  • Increased risk of fractures
  • Pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Bone deformity
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Difficulty of swallowing
  • Kidney stones
  • Skin calcium deposit accumulation
  • Respiratory infections


The recommended diet for osteomalacia includes foods rich in calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium. This means that you should avoid foods high in phosphorus.

Foods to be taken:

Foods that are rich in these nutrients include:


Osteomalacia is a rare disease and is more common in women than men. It increases the risk of bone fractures along with the pain and discomfort that this causes. Therefore, a person is likely to develop deformed bones

Doctors usually prescribe strong dosages of Vitamin D to help treat this condition. However, in some cases it might be necessary to take supplements regularly. Treatment takes a while to work and it can take up to six months for the bone strength to return completely.

This disease can be prevented by taking supplements, exercising and eating a healthy diet.