What is the treatment for vitamin D deficiency?
The treatment is to take 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 (liquid or tablets). Your doctor will discuss the dose and the best treatment schedule, depending on your situation, age, severity of the deficiency, etc. Briefly, one of the following may be advised.
A single small injection of vitamin D will last for about six months. This is a very effective and convenient treatment. It is useful for people who do not like taking medicines by mouth, or who are likely to forget to take their tablets.
High-dose tablets or liquids
There are different strengths available and a dose may be taken either daily, weekly or monthly. This will depend on your situation and on which particular treatment guideline your doctor is using. With high doses of vitamin D it is even more important to take the medicine correctly. The advantage of the higher-dose treatment is that the deficiency improves quickly, which is very important in growing children.
Standard-dose tablets, powders or liquids
These are taken every day for about 12 months so that the body can catch up on the missing vitamin D. This is a rather slow method of replacing vitamin D, but is suitable if the deficiency is mild, or for prevention.
Maintenance therapy after deficiency has been treated
Once vitamin D deficiency has been treated, the body's stores of vitamin D have been replenished. After this, maintenance treatment is often needed long-term, to prevent further deficiency in the future. This is because it is unlikely that any risk factor for vitamin D deficiency in the first place will have completely resolved. The dose needed for maintenance may be lower than that needed to treat the deficiency.
Are there any risks to taking vitamin D supplements?
Care is needed with vitamin D supplements in certain situations:
- If you are taking certain other medicines: digoxin (for an irregular heartbeat - atrial fibrillation) or thiazide diuretics such as bendroflumethiazide (commonly used to treat high blood pressure). In this situation, avoid high doses of vitamin D, and digoxin will need monitoring more closely.
- If you have other medical conditions: kidney stones, some types of kidney disease, liver disease or hormonal disease. Specialist advice may be needed.
- Vitamin D should not be taken by people who have high calcium levels or certain types of cancer.
- You may need more than the usual dose if taking certain medicines which interfere with vitamin D. These include: carbamazepine, phenytoin, primidone, barbiturates and some medicines for the treatment of HIV infection.
Multivitamins are not suitable for long-term high-dose treatment because the vitamin A they also contain can be harmful in large amounts.
Further reading and references
Vitamin D and health; Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (July 2016)
Evaluation, Treatment, and Prevention of Vitamin D Deficiency; Endocrine Society Clinical Guideline (July 2011)
Vitamin D - advice on supplements for at risk groups; Chief Medical Officers of the UK, February 2012
Bolland MJ, Avenell A, Grey A; Should adults take vitamin D supplements to prevent disease? BMJ. 2016 Nov 23355:i6201. doi: 10.1136/bmj.i6201.
Vitamin D: increasing supplement use among at-risk groups; NICE Public Health Guidance, November 2014
Sunlight exposure: risks and benefits; NICE Guidance (February 2016)
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