The causes of rachitic and osteomalacic syndromes are numerous and include a variety of genetic errors, nutritional abnormalities, metabolic disorders, and chronic renal diseases. Quite independent of cause, the clinical manifestations of the disorders may be remarkably similar, making it difficult for the physician to solve the often tangled puzzle of causation and introduce the appropriate treatment. However, recent discoveries relating to the disease mechanisms and the introduction of newer hormonal and drug treatments are contributing to better management and may lead to a cure.
Besides being interesting, the history of rickets and osteomalacia is important for the classification of the disorders. Both diseases were known in antiquity, but one of the clearest descriptions appeared in a 17th-century Latin text by Glisson. Investigations by Schmorl in the late 19th century established the role of sunlight in the prevention of the disease, and dietary factors were identified in the first part of the 20th century. Despite this knowledge, nutritional rickets remained a common occurrence and many children in working-class families in the temperate zones exhibited the characteristic symptoms of short stature, rib cage deformities, and bowed extremities.
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