Calcium is a mineral needed for bone health, muscle movement, and nerve function. Hypercalcemia is higher than normal levels of calcium in your blood.
Short-term or acute high levels of calcium can cause muscle twitching or weakness. Long-term high levels of calcium can lead to kidney stones or bone problems.
Vitamin D helps to absorb calcium from food or supplements. Once in your body, calcium may be stored in the bones or exist in the blood and cells. Levels of calcium in the blood are normally regulated by hormones from the parathyroid gland. Calcium is excreted through the kidneys.
Hypercalcemia may occur if an illness or medication interferes with this process or destroys bone and other tissue releasing extra calcium into the blood .The most common causes of hypercalcemia are medications, or an overactive parathyroid gland.
Dehydration can also cause temporary hypercalcemia. Decreased fluid in the blood causes an increase in concentration, but not amount of calcium.
Factors that may interfere with hormones and lead to hypercalcemia include:
- Parathyroid problems
- Certain disorders such as adrenal insufficiency and acromegaly
- Certain medications, such as lithium
Factors that may increase the amount of calcium in the body or blood include:
- Excess vitamin D and/or vitamin A supplements—increases absorption of calcium and release of calcium from the bones into the blood
- Certain medications, including diuretics that reduce the amount of calcium eliminated and calcium-containing antacids
- Certain diseases associated with inflammation such as sarcoidosis, berylliosis, or tuberculosis
Other factors that may increase your risk of hypercalcemia include:
- Cancer treatment—causes release of calcium from damaged cells or bones
- Genetic disorders
- Phosphate deficiency in newborns
- Kidney disease or failure—inability to get rid of calcium
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Symptoms may include:
- Bone pain
- Muscle weakness
Nausea and vomiting
- Irregular heartbeat
- Appetite loss and weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Difficulty concentrating and memory problems
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your bodily fluids will be tested. This can be done with:
If hypercalcemia is associated with a parathyroid problem or cancer your doctor may need images with:
Other tests may be done to look for any effects of hypercalcemia such as:
Treatment will depend on the cause of hypercalcemia. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:
Rehydration and Medications
IV fluids may be given to help flush out the excess calcium.
Medication may also be given to control the condition causing the problem or to encourage removal of calcium from the blood. Medication options may include:
Other Supportive Steps
Other treatments depend on the cause of your hypercalcemia but may include:
- Limiting your intake of calcium and vitamin D. You may be referred to a dietitian.
Parathyroid surgery may be needed to treat hypercalcemia in people with hyperparathyroidism.
Dialysis—For severe cases of hypercalcemia due to kidney failure.
To help reduce your chances of hypercalcemia, your doctor may:
- Treat any underlying causes, such as hyperparathyroidism
- Use bisphosphonates when there is cancer in the bones
American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
The Canadian Society of Endocrinology and Metabolism
Carroll M, Schade D. A practical approach to hypercalcemia. Am Fam Physician. 2003;67(9):1959-1966.
Hypercalcemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 18, 2014. Accessed February 17, 2015.
Hypercalcaemia. Patient UK website. Available at: http://patient.info/doctor/hypercalcaemia. Updated January 13, 2014. Accessed February 17, 2015.