What is vitamin D deficiency and its symptoms?

Vitamin D aka sunshine vitamin is a fat soluble vitamin that is used for several purposes in the body. Its special role is to aid in the absorption of calcium from the intestine. This absorbed calcium is then deposited in bones to make them stronger.


Vitamin D is a family of vitamins with different forms and includes ergocalciferol and cholecalciferol known as vitamin D2 and D3 respectively. Former is obtained from a plant source where as the latter is synthesized in human body.


Vitamin D is found in fish (such as tuna and salmon etc.), liver, eggs and cheese.

Fortified foods may also contain vitamin D and may be used to aid the supplemental therapy in the deficiency states of the vitamin in the body.


The recommended daily intake for vitamin D is 600IU/day for adults up to 70 years of age and 800 IU/day for individuals above 70.


For infants up to 6 months and above the vitamin D requirement is 400 IU/day.


Vitamin D deficiencies occur usually in diseases that involve malabsorption (e.g., Celiac Sprue and cystic fibrosis etc.), inadequate sunlight exposure, kidney diseases, liver problems etc.


People with strict vegan diet are also prone to vitamin D deficiency. Also, increased need of the vitamin for the body (as in lactation) may shift the vitamin levels below normal.
Since Vitamin D is stored in the body in an ample amount, the deficiency may belatent until the vitamin levels drop to a critical level.


The most observed and common symptoms include muscular and bone pain and lethargy.


Since the pain can arise in a number of situations it may be difficult to recognize the vitamin deficiency in the first place. It is therefore important to take notice of any other signs that together with the pain, point towards the deficiency of the vitamin.


Other vague symptoms also include getting frequent infections, owing to the immune system boosting function of vitamin D.


Vitamin D deficiency shows different signs and symptoms in different age groups. In infants and children, vitamin D deficiency causes rickets; in adults the deficiency presents with osteomalacia.


Rickets and osteomalacia are manifestations of dangerously low levels of vitamin D in the body; low enough to impair bone mineral deposition.


Symptoms that most of the babies and children present with are related to impairment in normal body growth. Poor growth is also seen in children and most of the time height is affected more than weight.


Babies show muscle cramps, spasms and irritability when deficient levels of vitamin D are present. They may also present with breathing difficulties. Breathing difficulties are usually due to weakened muscles of respiration and soft and frail ribs.


It is important to notice that vitamin D deficiency may be involved with marred calcium levels in the body since the only way of calcium absorption from the intestine is by vitamin D.


Rickets highlight vitamin D deficiency in children and the signs include curvy or bowed legs, soft bones; especially of skull (known as craniotabes), bone pains, easy fractures, and rachitic rosary. Rachitic rosary is a characteristic clinical presentation of rickets. In rachitic rosary, the costochondral junctions (areas of bone and cartilage junction) swell up and present in a bead like fashion (rosary) under the skin.


Knock knees may also be seen in children. In knock knees (aka genu valgum), the knees are bent to the inner side and contact each other and the legs turn in an outward direction such that the feet are separated from each other by a distance greater than normal.


In children with vitamin D deficiency, delay in tooth eruption is also noticed. Other than that, children/infants become more prone to infections, may have asthmatic attacks with affected cognitive functions. The children with the deficiency may prefer sitting over standing and may also start walking in their later years unlike other normal kids.


Rarely vitamin D deficiency may cause cardiomyopathy (weakness of heart muscles). This may be due to the altered calcium levels in the body as the heart muscles largely depends upon calcium for its function. Kyphoscoliosis may also be a presentation of vitamin D deficiency. Kyphoscoliosis is abnormal curvature of spine in longitudinal and lateral plane.


In adults, the vitamin D deficiency can present as lethargy, general body pain and irritability. Apart from these vague symptoms, the patients may notice soft bones that may be easily bowed and fractured. Several hairline fractures may also be noticeable. Hairline fractures are those in which the line of breakage is thin, such that the broken fragments of the bone are not separated from each other.


Most of the people confuse osteomalacia with osteoporosis. Former is a metabolic bone disorder in which bone formation is defected and latter is a bone disorder in which the bone destruction increases but there is no problem in bone formation; put the other way, the bone destruction is increased relative to bone formation.


In osteomalacia, there may be difficulty in actions that are performed against gravity (e.g. climbing or getting up from chairs etc.). A slight pressure on bones may cause pain which may be due to hairline fracture. The most common areas where bone pain is present is lower back, hips, thighs and feet; this is because the latter three are weight bearing areas.


Other problems that might occur as a result of vitamin D deficiency but are not too pronounced include increased risk of multiple sclerosis, diabetes, heart diseases, impairment of cognitive functions, stroke, autoimmune diseases, and cancer etc.


Vitamin D is an important vitamin for the body. Its deficiency may lead to the problems mentioned above. It is important to get the levels checked by a simple blood test since the deficiency may point to any diseases in the body. The deficiency can be treated by raising the levels of vitamin D in body by taking the vitamin from natural sources or supplements. It is important to discuss with your health care provider about the vitamin D status of your body so that proper treatment can be started.