Hypercalcemia is a condition in which there is too much calcium in the blood. While calcium is an essential nutrient necessary for bone growth and other functions, excess levels of calcium in the blood can have adverse health consequences. Over time, hypercalcemia can weaken the bones, cause kidney stones, and even affect vital brain and heart functions.
Causes of Hypercalcemia
The most common cause of hypercalcemia is overactive parathyroid glands. Other potential causes include medications or excessive supplements, dehydration, immobility, and cancer.
Signs and Symptoms of Hypercalcemia
The body has four parathyroid glands that control the production and distribution of calcium throughout the body. These glands are situated behind the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the middle of the lower neck and in front of the windpipe. Hypercalcemia does not always cause symptoms. When patients do present with symptoms, the symptoms often vary depending on which body system is most affected by the excess calcium. Patients may experience frequent urination and excessive thirst when the condition affects the kidneys. Digestive system involvement may cause nausea, vomiting, and constipation. It is also common for patients to experience fatigue, muscle weakness, and bone pain.
The diagnosis of hypercalcemia is complicated by the fact that the symptoms, when present, are often vague and generalized. The most effective way to diagnose the condition is with blood tests to determine if high levels of parathyroid hormone and calcium are present in the blood. Another indication of hypercalcemia is a low level of calcium excretion, which can be detected through a urine test. These tests can also be useful in identifying causes of hypercalcemia unrelated to parathyroid function and prevent unnecessary surgery. Various imaging tests of the bones and other tissues may be used to rule out cancer as the underlying cause of the hypercalcemia.
If the level of calcium in the blood is only mildly elevated, a wait-and-see approach along with dietary adjustments may be all that is necessary. If calcium levels remain elevated or increase, medications may be prescribed to manage parathyroid activity.
Short-term use of steroids may be used to treat hypercalcemia resulting from high levels of vitamin D. Diuretics and IV fluids may be required if calcium levels become dangerously high.
Surgical Treatment for Hypercalcemia
When the parathyroid malfunctions, the tissue of the affected gland may become noticeably enlarged. Surgery may be used to remove excess parathyroid tissue, which may restore calcium levels back to normal. The affected gland is usually identified through imaging or by injecting radioactive material.
Reducing Your Risk of Hypercalcemia
Hypercalcemia can occur as the result of various lifestyle and dietary factors. One way to reduce your risk of developing this condition is to monitor your intake of antacids, calcium, and vitamin D supplements. A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrients and limits the intake of calcium and vitamin D to the recommended daily amount will help ensure that blood calcium levels remain in the optimal range.