Schoolgirl's rickets blamed on sunscreen

A girl aged 12 has been diagnosed with the early stages of rickets after her conscientious mother used high-factor sun cream to protect her skin.

Rickets is a condition that only affects children. It causes bones to become weak and softer than normal. This can lead to pains, weak muscles, bowed legs and poor growth. The condition is due to lack of vitamin D and/or calcium. It can be treated (and usually cured) by taking vitamin supplements.

Children who get very little sun on their skin are most at risk.

We don't know how common rickets is, but it does affect many children in the UK. Some recent research suggests that rickets affects something like 1 in 1,000 children, and is much more likely in children of South Asian or Afro-Caribbean origin. Other research gives higher figures for rickets, about 1 in 100 children in ethnic minority groups.

In large cities in the UK, perhaps 20 children each year would attend a hospital clinic with a diagnosis of rickets.

Vitamin D deficiency, which makes children vulnerable to rickets, is very common and probably affects between 4 and 7 in 10 children in the UK.

Vitamin D deficiency is more likely to occur in the following situations:.

•Breast-fed babies whose mothers lack vitamin D, or breast-fed babies where weaning is delayed - if they are not taking vitamin drops.

•Children who get very little sun on their skin, such as those who are stay indoors a lot, or who cover up when outside. This could include children who are hospitalised long-term and even those who are protected from the harmful effects of the sun's rays with high factor sunscreen. It is important never to let your child get sunburn, as early exposure to excessive UVA and UVB sun rays is a risk factor for the later development of skin cancer.

•Children with medical conditions which affect the way the body handles vitamin D.

•Children with dark or black skins or of South Asian origin.

•Children with a family history of vitamin D deficiency.

What are the symptoms of rickets?

Many children have no symptoms at first, or only vague ones such as tiredness or aches.

Other symptoms that may develop include:.

•Bone pains, often in the legs.

•Muscle pains or muscle weakness.

•Soft skull or leg bones. This can make the legs look curved or bow-legged.

•Poor growth, or teeth which are delayed or weak.

•When rickets if very severe, it can cause low levels of calcium in the blood. This can lead to muscle spasms (cramps), seizures and breathing difficulties. These need urgent hospital treatment.

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