Hypercalcemia (high calcium levels)

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Hypercalcemia (high calcium levels)

Question

What is hypercalcemia? What causes it?

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Answer

Hypercalcemia is a higher than normal level of calcium in the blood. The most common cause is an overactive parathyroid gland (hyperparathyroidism). The parathyroid glands, which are located below the thyroid gland, regulate calcium in your body.

Other causes of hypercalcemia include:

  • Certain medications, such as lithium or thiazide diuretics
  • Certain cancers, including breast, lung and certain blood cancers
  • Sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disorder
  • Excessive intake of calcium or vitamin D supplements
  • Familial hypocalciuric hypercalcemia, a genetic disorder
  • Dialysis for chronic kidney failure
  • Adrenal gland failure
  • Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)

Severe hypercalcemia may cause:

  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Excessive thirst
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Confusion
  • Lethargy and fatigue

A doctor may make a diagnosis of hypercalcemia by a blood test. Treatment is directed at the underlying cause. Severe hypercalcemia may require hospitalization to reduce calcium to safe levels. In such cases, treatment may include:

  • Intravenous fluids
  • Diuretics
  • Bisphosphonates
  • Glucocorticoids (corticosteroids)

If untreated, hypercalcemia can lead to:

  • Kidney stones
  • Osteoporosis
  • Abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia)
  • Kidney failure

Last Updated: 03/23/2006
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