What Is Milk-Alkali Syndrome?
Milk-alkali syndrome is a potential consequence of developing
high levels of calcium in your blood. Too much calcium in your bloodstream is
called hypercalcemia. It can cause your body’s acid/base balance to become more
If you have too much calcium in your blood, it may be
deposited in your kidneys. This can trigger symptoms, such as excessive
urination and fatigue. Over time, this can lead to serious complications. For
example, it can cause kidney stones, kidney failure, and even death.
The condition usually improves when you cut down on antacids
or high-dose calcium supplements.
Symptoms of Milk-Alkali Syndrome
This condition often involves no noticeable symptoms. When
symptoms occur, they’re usually caused by kidney problems.
Symptoms can include:
- high urine output
- headache and confusion
- pain in your abdomen, back, or loin due to
Causes of Milk-Alkali Syndrome
Milk-alkali syndrome was once a common side effect of
consuming large amounts of milk or dairy products, along with antacids containing
Today, this condition is usually caused by consuming too
much calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is a dietary supplement. You might
take it if don’t get enough calcium in your diet.
Calcium supplements are available in two forms: carbonate
and citrate. According to the National
Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements (NIHODS), calcium
carbonate is more widely available. It’s also less expensive and more
convenient to take.
Many over-the-counter antacids, such as Tums and Maalox,
also contain calcium carbonate. Milk-alkali syndrome often results when people don’t
realize they’re consuming too much calcium by taking multiple supplements or
medications that contain calcium carbonate.
Diagnosing Milk-Alkali Syndrome
Your doctor can typically diagnose this condition with a
complete physical exam and blood tests. Talk to you doctor about any symptoms you’re
experiencing. Provide a complete list of all prescription and over-the-counter
medications and supplements you’re taking. If you don’t provide a full history
of medications, your doctor might misdiagnose your symptoms.
Your doctor will likely order a blood test to check the
level of calcium in your blood. A normal amount ranges from 8.5 to 10.2
milligrams per deciliter of blood. Higher levels may indicate milk-alkali
If left untreated, this condition can lead to calcium
deposits in the kidneys. Your doctor may order additional tests to check for
complications in your kidneys. These tests may include:
- CT scans
- kidney function testing
Early diagnosis can prevent permanent damage to your
Treating Milk-Alkali Syndrome
The goal of treatment is to reduce the amount of calcium in
your diet. Complications, such as kidney stones and kidney damage, also have to
be treated. If you’re currently taking calcium supplements or antacids for a
specific medical condition, tell your doctor. Ask them if there’s an
alternative treatment you can try.
To avoid developing milk-alkali syndrome:
- limit or eliminate your use of antacids that
- ask your doctor about antacid alternatives
- limit doses of supplemental calcium carbonate
- report continual digestive problems to your
Recommended Dietary Allowances of Calcium
provides the following recommendations for daily calcium intake:
- 0 to 6 months of age: 200 mg
- 7 to 12 months: 260 mg
- 1 to 3 years: 700 mg
- 4 to 8 years: 1,000 mg
- 9 to 18 years: 1,300 mg
- 19 to 50 years: 1,000 mg
- 51 to 70: 1,000 for males, 1,200 mg for females
- 71+ years: 1,200 mg
These are the average amounts of calcium that most healthy
people need to consume each day.
If you eliminate or reduce calcium in your diet, your
outlook is good. However, untreated milk-alkali syndrome can lead to serious
complications. These include:
- calcium deposits in your body’s tissues
- kidney stones
- kidney failure
If you’ve been diagnosed with complications, ask your doctor
about your treatment options.