Rickets is a childhood disease where your child’s bones are too soft, causing their bones to warp, bend and break more easily. It’s typically caused by a lack of vitamin D, but in rare cases, is caused by an underlying genetic disorder.
Rickets is a childhood disease where your child’s bones are too soft, causing their bones to warp, bend and break more easily.
Rickets is different from osteomalacia, which is a similar condition seen in adults. The difference between the two is that rickets happens only in children because their bones are still growing, which causes the classic symptom of bowed or bent bones. Adults’ bones have already finished growing and they don’t have this symptom (unless they had untreated rickets as a child).
Nutrition problems or genetics are usually the cause of rickets.
There are several ways to diagnose rickets. If your child’s pediatrician suspects rickets based on a physical exam or symptoms, they may order one or more of the following tests:
Yes, most cases of rickets (especially nutritional rickets) are curable when caught early. In most cases, changes to diet, added vitamin supplements and more sunlight exposure are enough to cure this disease.
Depending on how severe the case is, your pediatrician may recommend one or more of the following treatments for rickets:
For inherited cases of rickets, there are several treatment options depending on the genetic disorder in question. Your pediatrician may refer you to see a specialist to help find a treatment solution.
While rickets is a treatable and often curable disease, it’s important to treat it as soon as possible. When not treated, milder cases of rickets can result in long-term bone that can keep bones from growing properly. Severe cases that aren’t treated can lead to seizures, heart damage and death.
Yes, nutritional rickets can be prevented.
For people who are pregnant and infants:
For older children:
In the case of inherited diseases that cause rickets, the disease itself isn’t preventable. However, if you know you or your child has inherited a genetic disorder, early genetic testing may make it easier to prevent developing rickets as a result.
Nutritional rickets can be treated in weeks or months, depending on the severity of the case. Most symptoms like weakness or pain should improve within a few weeks. The vitamin D deficiency should also improve within six to eight weeks. If your child has any bowing or bending of bones, this can take months to improve (this can happen on its own but may require surgery or braces).
With inherited rickets, vitamin D deficiency is a symptom that can be treated, but the disease that causes it is a life-long condition. Your pediatrician (and specialists, if needed) can help you and your child learn to manage their condition.
For children with nutritional rickets, the outlook is typically good. With treatment, their condition should resolve in a matter of weeks or months. Most children treated for nutritional rickets recover completely and grow into healthy adults.
For children with inherited rickets, the prognosis depends on the specific genetic disorder they have. Still, in many cases, children with this type of rickets can grow into adults who live full, healthy lives.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Rickets is a childhood disease where your child’s bones are too soft, causing their bones to warp, bend and break more easily. Most cases of rickets are curable. Throughout the process, it’s important to talk to your child about what’s happening to them and help them learn that they have a role in managing their health. Whether it’s for nutritional or inherited rickets, it’s important to empower your child and give them the tools and the knowledge so they can take good care of themselves, too.
Treating the symptoms of an illness like rickets is only part of recovery. Your pediatrician may recommend that you and/or your child see a mental health professional to help you cope with this condition and how others might treat you and your child because of it (especially if your child has visible signs of the disease).
If the underlying cause of the disease is an inherited condition, your pediatrician or specialist may also help you connect with support organizations or groups of families and individuals who are also living with the same disease (or a very similar one). Connecting with others who have a similar experience can help you and your child emotionally, and can also help you learn new and better ways of managing your child’s condition.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/08/2022.
Learn more about our editorial process.