What are the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency?
Many people have no symptoms, or may complain of only vague ones such as tiredness or general aches. Because symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are often very nonspecific or vague, the problem is often missed. The diagnosis is more easily reached in severe deficiencies with some of the classical (typical) symptoms and bone deformities.
Symptoms in babies
Babies with severe vitamin D deficiency can get cramps (muscle spasms), fits (seizures) and breathing (respiratory) difficulties. These problems are related to consequent low levels of calcium.
Symptoms in children
- Children with severe deficiency may have soft skull or leg bones. Their legs may look curved (bow-legged). They may also complain of bone pains, often in the legs, and muscle pains or muscle weakness. This condition is known as rickets.
- Poor growth. Height is usually affected more than weight. Affected children might be reluctant to start walking.
- Tooth delay. Children with vitamin D deficiency may be late teething, as the development of the milk teeth has been affected.
- Irritability in children can be due to vitamin D deficiency.
- Children with vitamin D deficiency are more prone to infections. Breathing symptoms can occur in severe cases. Breathing can be affected because of weak chest muscles and a soft rib cage.
- When rickets is very severe, it can cause low levels of calcium in the blood. This can lead to muscle cramps, fits and breathing difficulties. These need urgent hospital treatment.
- Rarely, an extremely low vitamin D level can cause weakness of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy).
Symptoms in adults
- Some people complain of a general tiredness, vague aches and pains and a general sense of not being well.
- In more severe deficiency (known as osteomalacia), there may be more severe pain and also weakness. Muscle weakness may cause difficulty in climbing stairs or getting up from the floor or a low chair, or can lead to the person walking with a waddling pattern.
- Bones can feel painful to moderate pressure (often more noticeable in the ribs or shin bones). Not uncommonly, people have a hairline fracture in the bone which is causing tenderness and pain. Bone pain often also occurs in the lower back, hips, pelvis, thighs and feet.
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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