What Is Hypercalcemia?
Hypercalcemia is a condition in which you have too high a
concentration of calcium in your blood. Calcium performs important functions,
such as helping keep your bones healthy. However, too much of it can cause
problems. Hypercalcemia makes it hard for calcium to carry out its normal
What Are the Symptoms of Hypercalcemia?
You might not have any symptoms if you have mild hypercalcemia.
If you have a more serious case, you might have symptoms that affect various
parts of your body.
Symptoms related to your kidneys can lead to:
- excessive thirst
- excessive urination
- pain between your back and upper abdomen on one
Symptoms related to the abdomen include:
- abdominal pain
- decreased appetite
Calcium levels can affect your muscles, causing twitches and weakness.
High calcium levels can also cause bone issues, including:
- bone pain
- height loss
- bowed shoulders
- curvature of the spine
- fractures from disease
Hypercalcemia can also cause psychological symptoms, such as
depression, memory loss, and irritability.
If you have cancer and experience any symptoms of hypercalcemia,
call your doctor immediately. Hypercalcemia is a medical emergency in people
who have cancer.
What Causes Hypercalcemia?
Your body regulates the calcium level in your blood through the
parathyroid hormone (PTH), and another hormone called calcitonin. Normally, PTH
increases when the calcium level in your blood falls and decreases when your
calcium level rises. Your body also makes calcitonin when your calcium level
gets too high. When you have hypercalcemia, your body can’t regulate your
calcium level as it normally would. There are several possible causes of this
The parathyroid glands are four small glands near the thyroid
gland in the neck. They regulate parathyroid hormone, which in turn regulates
calcium in the blood. Hyperparathyroidism occurs when one or more of your
parathyroid glands becomes overly active. This is the leading cause of
hypercalcemia, especially in women over 50 years old. It occurs when the glands
release too much PTH.
Lung Diseases and Cancers
Granulomatous diseases, such as tuberculosis, are lung diseases
that can cause your vitamin D levels to rise. This causes more calcium
absorption, which increases the calcium level in your blood. Some cancers,
especially lung cancer, breast cancer, and blood cancers, can raise your risk
Medication Side Effects
Some medications, particularly diuretics, can produce
hypercalcemia. They do this by causing severe fluid diuresis, which is a loss
of body water, and an underexcretion of calcium. This then leads to an excess
concentration of calcium in the blood. Other drugs, such as lithium, cause more
PTH to be released.
Taking too much vitamin D or calcium in the form of supplements
can raise your calcium level.
This usually leads to mild cases of hypercalcemia. Dehydration
causes your calcium level to rise due to the low amount of fluid you have in
How Is Hypercalcemia Diagnosed?
Your doctor can use blood tests to check the calcium level in
your blood. This is called a serum calcium test. If your doctor finds a high
calcium level, they’ll order more tests to find out the cause of your
condition. Blood tests can help your doctor diagnose hyperparathyroidism. Tests
that can allow your doctor to check for evidence of cancer or other diseases
that can cause hypercalcemia include:
- chest X-rays, which can reveal lung cancer
- mammograms, which help diagnose breast cancer
- CT scans, which form a more detailed image of
- MRI scans, which produce detailed images of your
body’s organs and other structures
What Are the Treatment Options for
If you have mild hypercalcemia, your doctor might suggest simply
keeping track of your condition and waiting to see if it improves or gets worse
on its own.
You might need hospital treatment if you have a severe case. The
goal of treatment is to return your calcium level to normal. Treatment also
aims to prevent damage to your bones and kidneys. Treatment options include the
- Calcitonin is a hormone produced in the thyroid
gland. It slows down bone loss.
- Intravenous fluids keep you hydrated.
- Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory
medications. They help your body handle having too much vitamin D.
- Loop diuretic medications can help your kidneys
function and get rid of extra calcium.
- Intravenous bisphosphonates can keep your bones
from breaking down.
- Dialysis can be given to rid your blood of extra
calcium and waste when you have damaged kidneys. This is only done if other
treatment methods aren’t working.
If you have kidney stones or bone loss due to this condition, you
might need surgery to remove the abnormal parathyroid glands. This procedure
cures most cases of hypercalcemia caused by hyperparathyroidism. If surgery
isn’t an option for you, your doctor might give you a medication called
cinacalcet. This lowers your calcium level by decreasing PTH production. If you
have osteoporosis, your doctor might have you take bisphosphonates to lower
your risk of fractures.
If you have cancer, your doctor will discuss treatment options
with you to help you determine if you want to treat hypercalcemia. You might be
able to get relief from symptoms through intravenous fluids and medications.
This might make it easier for you to deal with your cancer treatments.
What Are the Complications Associated with
Severe cases of hypercalcemia can cause kidney problems, such as
kidney stones and kidney failure. Other complications include irregular heartbeats
and osteoporosis. Hypercalcemia can also cause confusion or dementia since
calcium helps keep your nervous system functioning properly. Serious cases can
lead to a potentially life-threatening coma.
What Is the Long-Term Outlook?
Your long-term outlook will depend on the how severe your
condition is. Your doctor can determine the best treatment for you. Talk to
your doctor regularly to stay informed and ask questions.
You can protect your kidneys and bones from damage due to hypercalcemia
by adopting a healthier lifestyle. Make sure you drink plenty of water. This
can keep kidney stones from developing. Since smoking can speed up bone loss,
it’s important to quit as soon as possible. Smoking also causes many other
health issues. Quitting smoking can only help your health.
Do a combination of weight-bearing exercises and strength
training to keep your bones strong and healthy. Talk to your doctor first to
find out what types of exercises are safe for you. This is especially important
if you have cancer that affects your bones.