Health Library

Vitamin D Deficiency

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.

Weakened Bone
Weakened bone at hip
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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.