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Vitamin D Deficiency

(Hypovitaminosis D)

Definition

Vitamin D deficiency is a low level of vitamin D in the body. Vitamin D is found in a few foods. It is also produced when the skin is exposed to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. Vitamin D is stored in the body's liver and fatty tissues.

This health problem can lead to rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. These are two diseases that weaken bones.

Causes

Vitamin D deficiency can be caused by:

  • Problems producing vitamin D from the skin's exposure to sunlight
  • Not getting enough vitamin D in the diet or from supplements
  • Not absorbing enough vitamin D from the digestive tract
  • Problems with the process of converting vitamin D to a form that the body can use

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:

  • Lack of direct sun exposure from things like:
    • Spending a lot of time indoors, such as in long term care facilities
    • Wearing clothes that cover most of the skin
    • Living in northern latitudes during the winter
    • Having darker skin
  • Not eating enough foods that contain vitamin D
  • Having conditions and procedures that affect the body's ability to absorb vitamin D from the digestive tract, such as:
  • Problems that affect the process of converting vitamin D to a form that the body can use, such as:

Symptoms

People with mild to moderate deficiency may not have symptoms. Those with a severe deficiency may have:

  • Bone and muscle pain
  • Hip pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Problems walking, climbing stairs, and getting out of a chair
  • Frequent falls

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. You may also be asked about your diet.

Your level of vitamin D will be tested. This can be done with blood tests.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to increase vitamin D levels. This can be done with:

  • Vitamin D supplements
  • Ultraviolet light therapy

Prevention

The risk of this problem may be lowered by:

  • Eating foods that contain or are enriched with vitamin D, such as milk, juices, and cereal
  • Getting some sun exposure
RESOURCES:

National Celiac Association
http://www.csaceliacs.org

Office of Dietary Supplements—National Institutes of Health
http://ods.od.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Pediatric Society
http://www.cps.ca

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

REFERENCES:

American Academy of Dermatology. Position statement on vitamin D. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: http://www.aad.org/Forms/Policies/Uploads/PS/PS-Vitamin%20D.pdf. Accessed February 4, 2021.

Dietary supplement fact sheet: vitamin D. Office of Dietary Supplements website. Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional. Accessed February 4, 2021.

Holick MF. The vitamin D deficiency pandemic: Approaches for diagnosis, treatment and prevention. Rev Endocr Metab Disord. 2017 Jun;18(2):153-165

Vitamin D deficiency in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/vitamin-d-deficiency-in-adults. Accessed February 4, 2021.

Last reviewed December 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN  Last Updated: 2/4/2021