The term hypercalcemia means having way too much calcium in the blood. For some individuals, this is caused by an overstimulation of the parathyroid glands while in others the causes include medications, excessive vitamin D, or any other health condition like cancer.
Calcium is an important nutrient of your body. It helps to strengthen bones and teeth and improves the health of your nerves, muscles, and the heart. However, having too much of this nutrient in your blood may cause certain problems.
In this article, we tend to explore the causes, symptoms, and complications of a condition known as hypercalcemia. The process of its diagnosis and treatment will also be discussed.
What is Hypercalcemia?
The level of calcium in your body is usually controlled by parathyroid glands. These glands are very small in size and are located just behind your thyroid.
Whenever your body requires calcium, the parathyroid glands start secreting a hormone which causes the following effects:
- The bones start releasing calcium into the bloodstream
- The kidneys reduce the calcium secretion in urine
- The kidneys start activating vitamin D, allowing the digestive tract to absorb more calcium
The overstimulation of parathyroid glands or any health condition can often disturb the balance of calcium in your body.
If the calcium levels are too high, a condition called hypercalcemia may be diagnosed. This disease can interrupt the normal functions of your body and may lead to:
- A poor bone health
- Abnormal function of heart and brain
- Kidney stones
Having too much calcium in the blood can sometimes lead to life-threatening complications.
What are the Symptoms?
Mild forms of hypercalcemia may not cause any symptoms; however, more serious forms can lead to:
- Increased thirst and frequent urination: Having too much calcium in the blood means that your kidneys are working a lot harder. As a consequence, a person may have to use the bathroom more commonly. This causes frequent urination and dehydration
- Digestive Issues: Too much calcium in the blood can upset your stomach can cause constipation, vomiting, nausea, and abdominal pain.
- Muscle Weakness and Bone Pain: Hypercalcemia can force your bones to release their calcium, making them deficient. This may cause pain in bone and weakening of muscles.
- Fatigue, Lethargy, and Confusion: A high blood calcium can affect your brain and cause these symptoms.
- Depression and Anxiety: Hypercalcemia can affect your mental health.
- Hypertension and Abnormal Heart Rhythms: High levels of calcium can cause an increase in your blood pressure. As a consequence, this leads to electrical abnormalities forcing a change in your heart’s rhythms. It often adds strain as well.
What are the Complications?
If you are not getting any proper treatment for hypercalcemia, complications may occur. Some of these complications caused due to high calcium levels are explained below.
Because hypercalcemia causes an increase in the release of calcium from bones, this eventually deprives them of this nutrient. As a result, the bones start becoming thinner and lose their density. As the bones continue to release calcium in the blood, osteoporosis may develop.
People who suffer from osteoporosis are at an increased risk of developing the following problems:
- Fracture of the bones
- Loss of independence
- Significant disability
- The curvature of the spine
- Immobility for a long time
- Losing height over time
People who have too much calcium in the blood can develop kidneys stones. These stones are actually formed by the accumulation and hardening of the calcium crystals in the kidney. These crystals are extremely painful and may lead to kidney damage.
Over the time, severe forms of hypercalcemia can interfere with the ability of a person’s kidney to work properly. The capability of the kidneys to clean the blood, produce urine, and remove fluid from the body gets extremely disturbed.
This condition is known as kidney failure.
Problems Related to the Central Nervous System
If you do not get a proper and timely treatment for hypercalcemia, it may start worsening. A classic sign that your condition is getting worse is when your nervous system starts getting affected. The possible effects may include:
In extremely serious conditions, a person may even fall into a coma. This is life-threatening and may prove to be fatal.
Your heart beats when the electrical pulses move through it causing contractions. Calcium plays an important role in initiating and managing these contractions. Therefore, having too much calcium in the blood may lead to irregularities in the heartbeat.
Anyone who is experiencing the symptoms related to hypercalcemia must consult with a doctor immediately. The doctor will most likely order and blood test and get to a diagnosis based on its results.
A person suffering from a mild form of hypercalcemia may not exhibit any symptoms of hypercalcemia. In such cases, a diagnosis can only be made through blood tests.
The blood test usually provides a report regarding the levels of parathyroid hormone and blood calcium. These levels depict how well the systems of your body are functioning, particularly those that are involved with the kidneys and the blood.
After a diagnosis for hypercalcemia has been made, a doctor may perform other tests such as:
- A chest X-ray to detect any infections or cancer of the lungs
- An ECG to monitor the electrical activity of your heart
- A mammogram to detect any breast cancer
- A dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, more commonly known as a DEXA scan, for measuring the bone density.
- An MRI or a CT scan for examining the organs and structure of the body
People suffering from mild forms of hypercalcemia may not require any sort of treatment. In most such cases, the elevated levels of calcium usually become normal over the course of time. The doctor keeps monitoring the calcium levels and the health of your kidneys until then.
If the calcium levels keep rising and do not tend to improve on their own, further testing is usually advised.
In case of people suffering from severe forms of hypercalcemia, it is important that you discover the cause. The doctor may even offer treatments for lowering it down and to prevent complications.
Some possible treatments may include intravenous fluids and certain medications such as bisphosphonates and calcitonin.
If the overactive parathyroid glands, excessive vitamin D, or any other health condition is leading to hypercalcemia, the doctor will also focus on treating these problems.
If there is a non-cancerous growth on a person’s parathyroid gland, a surgery may be required to remove it.
How to Prevent Hypercalcemia
Introducing certain changes in your diet and lifestyle can keep your calcium levels balanced and improve the health of your bones. These may include:
· Drinking a lot of water: staying hydrated may not only lower the blood calcium levels but may even reduce the risk of kidney stones.
· Quitting smoking: Smoking normally tends to increase bone loss. So, quitting it will not only improve the health of your bones but will also lower the risk of cancer and other related health conditions.
· Exercising and Strength Training: This can promote the health of your bones as well as the normal well-being.