When the level of calcium in the blood is above the normal level, you are said to have hypercalcemia.
While calcium is a necessary element for bone and tooth formation, it is also required for the contraction of muscles, the release of hormones and maintaining the function of nerves and the brain.
Too much calcium in the body actually gets in the way of these functions and affects the efficiency of the functioning of the body’s organs.
There are four glands in the body which are responsible for regulating the calcium levels in your body. These glands are called the parathyroid; distinct and different to the thyroid gland.
Calcium is absorbed into the blood stream in the small intestine, and any excess not stored in bones is excreted by the kidneys. Hormones are released by the four parathyroid glands to regulate the level of calcium in the blood.
The main cause of hypercalcemia is the over-activity of one or more of the parathyroid glands. Women, over the age of 50, are the group most likely to develop hypercalcemia from overactive parathyroid glands.
The other main cause of hypercalcemia is cancer; less common causes include other medical disorders, certain medications and the over-use of supplements, mainly calcium and vitamin D supplements.
Hypercalcemia is a fairly common problem. It usually shows up as a slightly raised calcium level which becomes chronic. It is a problem that can potentially affect almost every organ of the body. The elevated calcium levels are often not discovered until an underlying problem is being investigated.
Between 20% and 30% of cancer patients will develop hypercalcemia at some stage during their illness. The major cause of hypercalcemia, hyperparathyroidism, occurs in 25 per 100,000 of the general population, with more than 50,000 new cases occurring each year in the US. These people are usually treated as outpatients and hospitalization is rarely required.
Mild increases in calcium levels have few, if any, symptoms. When the levels increase though, you may have nausea and vomiting, confusion and disorientation, abdominal pain, constipation, lethargy, headaches and vague muscle pain.
These symptoms are largely non-specific, and diagnosis based on them, could be inconclusive. Often, it is the symptoms of the underlying problem that prompt patients to seek medical advice.
Hypercalcemia caused by dysfunction of the parathyroid can be corrected by surgery, and this has become a simple procedure, with smaller incisions, performed under local anesthetic as an outpatient. This is far preferable to the major surgery of past generations.
When you go online to research into hypercalcemia, it will produce pages of scientific findings and prognoses. You might find it quite difficult to decipher the scientific language and get the answers you seek.
Make sure you ask your doctor every question you need answers to; seek clarification if there is something you don’t understand. It is your body, and when you are educated about your condition, you will have a better mental attitude to help you deal with your symptoms and treatment. Seek a second opinion if you are not satisfied.