What is hypercalcemia?
Hypercalcemia is a condition in which you have too high a concentration of calcium in your blood. Calcium is essential for the normal function of organs, cells, muscles and nerves. It’s also important in blood clotting and bone health. However, too much of it can cause problems. Hypercalcemia makes it hard for the body to carry out its normal functions. Extremely high levels of calcium can be life-threatening.
How common is hypercalcemia?
Hypercalcaemia is an uncommon problem. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of hypercalcemia?
You might not have signs or symptoms if your hypercalcemia is mild. More-severe cases produce signs and symptoms related to the parts of your body affected by the high calcium levels in your blood. Examples include:
- Excess calcium in your blood means your kidneys have to work harder to filter it. This can cause excessive thirst and frequent urination.
- Digestive system. Hypercalcemia can cause stomach upset, nausea, vomiting and constipation.
- Bones and muscles. In most cases, the excess calcium in your blood was leached from your bones, which weakens them. This can cause bone pain, muscle weakness and depression.
- Hypercalcemia can interfere with the way your brain works, resulting in confusion, lethargy and fatigue. It can also cause depression.
- Rarely, severe hypercalcemia can interfere with your heart function, causing palpitations and fainting, indications of cardiac arrhythmia, and other heart problems.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes hypercalcemia?
Your body uses the interaction between calcium, vitamin D, and parathyroid hormone (PTH) to regulate calcium levels. PTH helps the body control how much calcium comes into the blood stream from the intestines, kidneys, and bones. Normally, PTH increases when the calcium level in your blood falls and decreases when your calcium level rises.
Your body can also make calcitonin from the thyroid gland when your calcium level gets too high. When you have hypercalcemia, there is excess calcium in your blood stream and your body can’t regulate your calcium level as it normally would. There are several possible causes of this condition.
The parathyroid glands are four small glands located behind the thyroid gland in the neck. They control the production of the parathyroid hormone, which in turn regulates calcium in the blood. Hyperparathyroidism occurs when one or more of your parathyroid glands becomes overly active and releases too much PTH. This creates a calcium imbalance that the body cannot correct on its own. This is the leading cause of hypercalcemia, especially in women over 50 years old.
Lung diseases and cancers
Granulomatous diseases, such as tuberculosis and sarcoidosis, 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 for hypercalcemia.
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.
Dietary supplements and over-the-counter medications
Taking too much vitamin D or calcium in the form of supplements can raise your calcium level. Excessive use of calcium carbonate, found in common antacids like Tums and Rolaids, can also lead to high calcium levels. High doses of these over-the-counter products are the third most common cause of hypercalcemia in the United States.
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 your blood.However, the severity greatly depends on your kidney function. In people with chronic kidney disease, the affects of dehydration are greater.
What increases my risk for hypercalcemia?
Women older than 50 are at highest risk of overactive parathyroid glands.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is hypercalcemia diagnosed?
Because hypercalcemia can cause few, if any, signs or symptoms, you might not know you have the disorder until routine blood tests show a high level of blood calcium. Blood tests also can reveal whether your parathyroid hormone level is high, indicating that you have hyperparathyroidism.
To determine if your hypercalcemia is caused by an underlying problem, such as cancer or sarcoidosis, your doctor might recommend imaging tests of your bones or lungs.
How is hypercalcemia treated?
If your hypercalcemia is mild, you and your doctor might choose to watch and wait, monitoring your bones and kidneys over time to be sure they remain healthy.
In some cases, your doctor might recommend:
- Calcitonin (Miacalcin). This hormone from salmon controls calcium levels in the blood. Mild nausea might be a side effect.
- This type of drug can help control overactive parathyroid glands. Cinacalcet (Sensipar) has been approved for managing hypercalcemia.
- Intravenous osteoporosis drugs, which can quickly lower calcium levels, are often used to treat hypercalcemia due to cancer. Risks associated with this treatment include osteonecrosis of the jaw and certain types of thigh fractures.
- Denosumab (Prolia, Xgeva). This drug is often used to treat people with cancer-caused hypercalcemia who don’t respond well to bisphosphonates.
- If your hypercalcemia is caused by high levels of vitamin D, short-term use of steroid pills such as prednisone are usually helpful.
- IV fluids and diuretics. Extremely high calcium levels can be a medical emergency. You might need hospitalization for treatment with IV fluids and diuretics to promptly lower the calcium level to prevent heart rhythm problems or damage to the nervous system.
Surgical and other procedures
Problems associated with overactive parathyroid glands often can be cured by surgery to remove the tissue that’s causing the problem. In many cases, only one of a person’s four parathyroid glands is affected. A special scanning test uses an injection of a small dose of radioactive material to pinpoint the gland or glands that aren’t working properly.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage hypercalcemia?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with hypercalcemia:
You can do your part to help protect your kidneys and bones from damage due to hypercalcemia by making healthy lifestyle choices. Make sure you drink plenty of water. This will keep you hydrated, keep blood levels of calcium down, and decrease your risk of developing kidney stones. 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.
A combination of physical exercises and strength training can 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. Make sure to follow guidelines for the doses of over-the-counter supplements and medications to decrease the risk of excessive vitamin D and calcium intake.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: August 2, 2017 | Last Modified: September 13, 2019
Hypercalcemia: What Happens If You Have Too Much Calcium? http://www.healthline.com/health/hypercalcemia#overview1. Accessed August 2, 2017.
Hypercalcemia. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypercalcemia/home/ovc-20316711. Accessed August 2, 2017.
Hypercalcaemia. https://patient.info/doctor/hypercalcaemia. Accessed August 2, 2017.