Do you have a vitamin D deficiency?

Posted on 15 May 2014

Vitamin D is produced by the body in response to sunlight, but when your system’s lacking enough of it, you can develop serious health complications in the long-term says Dr Carsten Weinreich, a specialist physician/endocrinologist at Mediclinic Milnerton.

What are the signs and symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency?
Vitamin D deficiency is common, but many people only have vague symptoms like tiredness, general aches or a sense of not being well. A more severe lack of vitamin D can cause serious problems like rickets (in children) and osteomalacia (softening of bones in adults). The diagnosis is more easily reached in these cases, especially if the patient displays some of the classical symptoms and bone deformities.

Who is at risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency?
Since most of the natural sources of vitamin D are animal-based (fish, fish oils, egg yolks, cheese, fortified milk, and beef liver), strict vegetarians are at risk, as are people who have limited sunlight exposure, like the elderly, the homebound, those who wear long robes or head coverings for religious reasons, or those whose job prevents sun exposure. People with darker skins are also prone to deficiency since the pigment melanin reduces the skin’s ability to make vitamin D in response to sunlight exposure. People with health issues such as renal disease, Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis and the obese may also have a heightened risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency as it is primarily absorbed via the kidneys or intestines – and removed from the blood by fat cells.

How is the deficiency diagnosed and treated?
A simple blood test for vitamin D levels can result in a diagnosis. Blood tests for calcium and phosphate levels, and liver function may also show changes linked to a low level of vitamin D. The treatment of deficiency and whether it’s curable depends on whether there is an underlying medical condition, such as kidney failure. However, it is usually managed by taking vitamin D supplements. This is a form of vitamin D called ergocalciferol or calciferol. Vitamin D can be given as an injection or as a medicine in liquid or tablet form. Your doctor will discuss the dose and best treatment schedule, depending on your situation, age and severity of the deficiency. It is also advisable to increase the intake of vitamin D-rich food, such as the ones mentioned above. Sunshine exposure should be increased within reason, keeping in mind that sunscreen will block the production of vitamin D. Once levels return to normal, maintenance treatments may be required as preventative measures.

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Published in Endocrinology

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