Hypercalcemia: Know Its Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Calcium is crucial for several key bodily functions including the health of your organs and blood. However, if you have overactive parathyroid glands, you may find yourself with too much calcium in your blood. This condition is known as hypercalcemia and can affect processes including those occurring in your brain and heart.

Treatment for hypercalcemia depends on the cause of the condition. The most common cause is overactive parathyroid glands, four tiny glands found behind the thyroid gland. Symptoms of this condition range from unnoticeable to severe. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about this condition including symptoms, causes, and treatment methods.

What Is Hypercalcemia?

Hypercalcemia is a condition characterized by an excess buildup of calcium in your bloodstream. It is important for functions such as bone health and blood clotting and plays a key role in your nerves, muscles, cells, and organs functioning normally.

Symptoms

You may not notice any symptoms if you suffer from mild hypercalcemia. However, if you suffer from a more severe case, you will notice different symptoms depending on which system in your body is affected. General symptoms include fatigue and headache. If you have over-calcification of the kidneys, you may experience painful kidney stones between your upper abdomen and back or excessive urination or thirst.

If your digestive system is affected, you may experience vomiting, constipation, nausea or an upset stomach. If hypercalcemia affects your brain, you can experience symptoms ranging from depression and lethargy to fatigue, confusion, and dementia. CT scans form a detailed image of your body while MRI scans produce detailed images of your internal organs and other internal structures. DEXA bone mineral density tests are useful for testing the health and strength of your bones.

Diagnosis

Hypercalcemia is diagnosed using blood tests which detect the concentration of calcium in your blood. Urine tests can also detect substances such as protein and calcium. Both urine and blood tests are also used to diagnose hyperparathyroidism or other conditions which may cause your excess levels of calcium in the blood. Just as important as diagnosing your condition is discovering the cause. There are many medical tests doctors use to find the root of the problem. Chest x-rays are used to diagnose lung cancer. Mammograms are used to diagnose breast cancer.

Precautions

If you are diagnosed with hypercalcemia, stop smoking if you are a smoker. This will protect your bones. Drink at least 40 to 50% of your body weight in ounces of water and drink before you are thirsty. If you are chronically dehydrated, you lose the ability to detect your dehydration levels. Attend every follow-up appointment your doctor recommends so he can monitor your condition and health factors such as bone, heart and kidney health.

Include strength training in your exercise routine to keep your bones healthy, particularly if you have bone cancer. Do not take more than the daily recommended dose of vitamin D or calcium supplements, especially if these vitamins and minerals are abundant in your diet. Try to consume two grams of salt per day to help you retain water and protect your kidneys. This mitigates your risk of developing kidney stones by helping them flush out waste and process excess calcium.

Complications

Hypercalcemia can cause many issues depending on what parts of your body are affected. Excess calcium can cause your nervous system to function improperly leading to dementia, confusion or a potentially fatal coma. You may also experience problems with your kidneys such as renal failure or painful kidney stones. Other complications include osteoporosis and arrhythmia.

What Causes Hypercalcemia?

Causes Hypercalcemia inside the body

Calcium levels in your body are regulated by interactions with parathyroid hormone (PTH), vitamin D and calcium. If you consume too much calcium, your thyroid gland can make calcitonin; a hormone used to lower the concentration of calcium in your blood. However, your body can only regulate so much calcium at once.

Overactive Parathyroid Glands

If at least one of your four parathyroid glands is enlarged or you have a small, benign (non-cancerous) tumor, your parathyroid glands may become overactive. This is the most common cause of having excess calcium in your blood.

Cancer

Certain types of cancer, such as breast or lung cancer, can increase your risk of too much calcium in your blood. Metastasis, or the spreading of cancer, to your blood, can also increase your risk.

Other Diseases

Some diseases, including sarcoidosis and tuberculosis, increase the levels of vitamin D in your bloodstream. This prompts your digestive tract to absorb an excess of calcium.

Hereditary Factors

Familial hypocalciuric hypercalcemia is a rare genetic disorder which causes defective calcium receptors in the body which leads to an increase of calcium in your bloodstream.

Immobility

Calcium is leached into the blood when bones do not bear weight. If you are bed-bound or spend too much time lying or sitting down, you may end up with an excess of calcium in your blood.

Other Causes

Other causes of hypercalcemia include certain supplements, medications, and severe dehydration. Temporary dehydration can cause transient hypercalcemia while severe  chronic dehydration can lead to mild increases in calcium concentrations in your blood. Dehydration means less water in your blood, increasing the concentration of whatever calcium is in your bloodstream.

Chronic kidney disease compounds the impact of dehydration. If you take too many vitamins D or calcium supplements, as time passes you can have abnormally high levels of calcium in your blood.

Finally, if you take certain medications, such as lithium to treat a manic-depressive disorder, it may increase parathyroid hormone production. If you take diuretics, severe fluid diuresis or dehydration can occur which leads to poor calcium excretion. This leads to too much calcium in the blood. Avoid taking antacids high in calcium carbonate frequently, such as Rolaids or Tums. See a professional about why your stomach upset occurs so frequently. Taking too many over-the-counter supplements is the third leading cause of hypercalcemia.

How to Treat Hypercalcemia

medication needed to treat hypercalcemia

Treatment for hypercalcemia depends on the cause. If your condition is mild, you may suffer from kidney stones and need to be monitored to ensure your condition does not develop into kidney failure. At this stage, your body does a good job of regulating itself through the thyroid gland producing calcitonin and slowing bone loss. See a doctor to determine the cause of the condition and treat it at home if you can.

Moderate to Severe Cases

If your case of hypercalcemia is moderate to severe, seek treatment at a medical facility. This treatment will minimize further damage to your kidneys and bones. If you are severely dehydrated, you will receive intravenous fluids to decrease the concentration of calcium in your blood.

If your condition is caused by an excess of vitamin D, doctors will give you corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. If you have heart failure, doctors will treat you with loop diuretic medications to aid the kidneys in fluid removal and excess calcium excretion. Intravenous bisphosphonates are used to regulate bone calcium which leads to lower concentrations of calcium in the blood. If your kidneys are damaged, you may be treated with dialysis to help remove waste and extra calcium from your blood. In severe cases, a kidney transplant is necessary.

Medications

There are drugs other than bisphosphonates your doctor may give you to treat your hypercalcemia. Miacalcin is calcitonin secreted from salmon which can supplement the calcitonin produced by your thyroid to regulate the concentration of calcium in your blood. You may experience mild nausea, but treating your condition is crucial. Other medications used to treat this condition include diuretics and IV fluids, prednisone, denosumab, and calcimimetics. The cause of your condition will determine which treatment method is used when you first seek medical attention.

Primary Hyperparathyroidism

If any of your parathyroid glands are abnormally large, they may need to be surgically removed. Your doctor will carefully consider your age, kidney function, and risk to bones. If surgery is an unacceptable solution to hyperparathyroidism, you may be prescribed cinacalcet, sold under the name Sensipar. This decreases the production of the hormone PTH and reduces your blood calcium concentration. If you suffer from osteoporosis, your doctor may recommend bisphosphonates to mitigate your risk of fractures.

Cancer

If parathyroid cancer caused your high calcium levels, cinacalcet could help. It may also help with hypercalcemia caused by other types of cancer. Treating your high calcium concentration with intravenous medications and fluids such as bisphosphonates may provide you with enough relief to bear your cancer treatments.

Conclusion

blood test done to detect hypercalcemia

Hypercalcemia is a condition characterized by too much calcium in the blood. Vitamin D stimulates your body to absorb calcium efficiently. Your bones can excrete calcium into the blood if you are too sedentary. You may also be overdosing on calcium supplements or have cancer or another disease.

Symptoms range from unnoticeable to life-threatening, so get regular blood tests to test your blood calcium concentration. Follow all advice from your doctor on treatment and make healthy lifestyle choices. With medical technology as advanced as it is, your doctor can mitigate the risk of further damage by diagnosing the cause of your condition and treating or curing it.