Hypercalcemia means that a patient has an overabundance of calcium in the blood. While calcium is essential and plays a significant role in maintaining bone strength, muscular contraction and central nervous system function, too much calcium can be harmful. Hypercalcemia most frequently affects women over 50 years of age. Most often, hypercalcemia is due to overactivity of the parathyroid gland, known as hyperparathyroidism. The parathyroid glands produce parathyroid hormone (PTH), which helps regulate calcium blood levels. If these glands secrete too much PTH, the result is hypercalcemia. Other possible causes of this condition include hyperthyroidism, certain types of cancer, inflammatory granulomas, adrenal gland disorders, very high dietary calcium intake, kidney failure, an overabundance of vitamin D and certain medications.
Symptoms of Hypercalcemia
Due to calcium's influence on many bodily functions, the symptoms of hypercalcemia may vary widely. Some common preliminary symptoms include:
- Nausea, constipation, abdominal pain
- Excessive thirst and urination
- Muscle weakness
- Depression, memory problems
- Bone fractures, loss of height
Left untreated, hypercalcemia can results in life-threatening consequences which may include:
- Peptic ulcers
- Kidney stones
- Heart arrhythmia
- Kidney failure
Because of the possibility of such dangerous symptoms, patients over the age of 50, particularly those taking calcium or vitamin D supplements, should be carefully monitored for the disorder.
Diagnosis of Hypercalcemia
To diagnose hypercalcemia, a blood test and possibly a urine test will be performed. If excess calcium is detected, further diagnostic imaging testing, such as X-rays, CT or MRI scans, may be required to determine the precise cause of the condition.
Treatment of Hypercalcemia
There are various treatment options for hypercalcemia, depending on its cause. In mild cases in which the patient is asymptomatic, medically monitoring the condition may be sufficient. Once the patient develops symptoms, however, medical intervention is usually necessary. Extremely high levels of calcium require emergency hospitalization and administration of intravenous fluids and diuretics to prevent cardiovascular or neurological damage.
Possible treatments include various medications to decrease the level of calcium in the blood, such as calcimetics, to control overactive parathyroid glands. Other medications that may be administered include prednisone, diuretics, and medications used to counteract osteoporosis. Several of these medications, however, have adverse side effects.
The most common surgical procedure performed to treat hypercalcemia is a parathyroidectomy. It is performed because the primary cause of the condition is often a benign tumor on one of the four parathyroid glands. Surgery to remove diseased tissue of the parathyroid glands can be performed a number of ways, most of them minimally invasive and highly effective.
Alterations in lifestyle can also be helpful in treating hypercalcemia. These include giving up smoking, engaging in regular exercise, and maintaining proper hydration