Vitamin D deficiency is when your body does not have enough vitamin D. Vitamin D is important to your body for many reasons:
- It helps the body absorb two important minerals—calcium and phosphorus.
- It plays a role in bone health.
- It may help to prevent some diseases, such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
- It plays a role in muscle function, including heart function.
If vitamin D deficiency is severe, it can cause a condition in which your bones become soft. In adults, this condition is called osteomalacia. In children, this condition is called rickets.
What are the causes?
This condition may be caused by:
- Not eating enough foods that contain vitamin D.
- Not getting enough natural sun exposure.
- Having certain digestive system diseases that make it difficult for your body to absorb vitamin D. These diseases include Crohn's disease, chronic pancreatitis, and cystic fibrosis.
- Having a surgery in which a part of the stomach or a part of the small intestine is removed.
- Having chronic kidney disease or liver disease.
What increases the risk?
You are more likely to develop this condition if you:
- Are older.
- Do not spend much time outdoors.
- Live in a long-term care facility.
- Have had broken bones.
- Have weak or thin bones (osteoporosis).
- Have a disease or condition that changes how the body absorbs vitamin D.
- Have dark skin.
- Take certain medicines, such as steroid medicines or certain seizure medicines.
- Are overweight or obese.
What are the signs or symptoms?
In mild cases of vitamin D deficiency, there may not be any symptoms. If the condition is severe, symptoms may include:
- Bone pain.
- Muscle pain.
- Falling often.
- Broken bones caused by a minor injury.
How is this diagnosed?
This condition may be diagnosed with blood tests. Imaging tests such as X-rays may also be done to look for changes in the bone.
How is this treated?
Treatment for this condition may depend on what caused the condition. Treatment options include:
- Taking vitamin D supplements. Your healthcare provider will suggest what dose is best for you.
- Taking a calcium supplement. Your healthcare provider will suggest what dose is best for you.
Follow these instructions at home:
Eating and drinking
- Eat foods that contain vitamin D. Choices include:
- Fortified dairy products, cereals, or juices. Fortified means that vitamin D has been added to the food. Check the label on the package to see if the food is fortified.
- Fatty fish, such as salmon or trout.
- Take medicines and supplements only as told by your healthcare provider.
- Get regular, safe exposure to natural sunlight.
- Do not use a tanning bed.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Lose weight if needed.
- Keep all follow-up visits as told by your healthcare provider. This is important.
How is this prevented?
You can get vitamin D by:
- Eating foods that naturally contain vitamin D.
- Eating or drinking products that have been fortified with vitamin D, such as cereals, juices, and dairy products (including milk).
- Taking a vitamin D supplement or a multivitamin supplement that contains vitamin D.
- Being in the sun. Your body naturally makes vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight. Your body changes the sunlight into a form of the vitamin that it can use.
Contact a healthcare provider if:
- Your symptoms do not go away.
- You feel nauseous or you vomit.
- You have fewer bowel movements than usual or are constipated.
- Vitamin D deficiency is when your body does not have enough vitamin D.
- Vitamin D is important to your body for good bone health and muscle function, and it may help prevent some diseases.
- Vitamin D deficiency is primarily treated through supplementation. Your healthcare provider will suggest what dose is best for you.
- You can get vitamin D by eating foods that contain vitamin D, by being in the sun, and by taking a vitamin D supplement or a multivitamin supplement that contains vitamin D.
This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your healthcare provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your healthcare provider.
Burt LA et al: Effect of high-dose vitamin D supplementation on volumetric bone density and bone strength: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 322(8):736-45, 2019
Gittoes NJ: Vitamin D--what is normal according to latest research and how should we deal with it? Clin Med (Lond). 15 Suppl 6:s54-7, 2015
Holick MF: The vitamin D deficiency pandemic: approaches for diagnosis, treatment and prevention. Rev Endocr Metab Disord. 18(2):153-65, 2017
LeFevre ML et al: Vitamin D screening and supplementation in community-dwelling adults: common questions and answers. Am Fam Physician. 97(4):254-60, 2018
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