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Rickets is a vitamin deficiency disease of infancy and early childhood caused by lack of vitamin D. Rickets causes soft bones because vitamin D is not present to assist in calcium and phosphate uptake. Vitamin D is synthesised in the body on exposure to ultraviolet light and is supplemented in milk products. Some people who do not get enough sun exposure, milk products, or green vegetables may develop the disease, although this is rare today. Hereditary rickets is caused by an inherted defect which prevents the kidney from retaining phosphate. Rickets can also be caused by some other kidney and liver diseases.

Rickets causes bone pain, slowed growth in children, dental problems, muscle loss and increased risk of fractures. The classic image of advanced rickets sufferers is of bow legs and a deformed chest and skull, with prominent frontal and parietal bones causing a distinctive "square headed" appearance. These deformities persist into adult life.

Treatment involves increasing dietary intake of calcium, phosphate and vitamin D. Exposure to sunshine, cod liver oil, halibut-liver oil, and viosterol are all sources of vitamin D.

Despite the name, rickets is not caused by Rickettsia infection. "Rickets" is a corruption of "rachitis", a disease of the "rachis", or spinal column.