Ectopic Calcification: Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Ectopic calcification is when soft tissue becomes bone-like. You'll also learn about some of the possible signs and symptoms of this pathological manifestation as well as potential treatment options.

Ectopic Calcification

Your bones are hard. Your skin and organs are soft. Well, imagine the problems if your body made your soft tissues as hard as bone? This simplified example is related to ectopic calcification. Man, is that a weird term or what? What does it even mean?

Let's start with defining 'ectopic'. If you saw a guy wearing a football helmet at a bowling alley, you'd think he was a little out of place, right? Something located or occurring out of place in the body is said to be ectopic.

Calcification refers to the biomineralization of a structure with a calcium-based substance, such as hydroxyapatite.

So, more broadly, when we say ectopic calcification, we are referring to the abnormal calcium-based mineralization of a tissue or structure. What's normally calcified in the body? Hard tissue, like bone. What's abnormally calcified in the body? Soft tissue, like skin.

Ectopic calcification is sometimes split into two very general categories:

  1. dystrophic calcification, where the calcification occurs in previously damaged tissues
  2. metastatic calcification, where the calcification occurs in (at first) healthy tissues.

Let's go over the potential signs, symptoms and treatments of ectopic calcification.

Signs & Symptoms

The signs and symptoms stemming from ectopic calcification all depend on the soft tissue organ or structure that's affected. We'll go over a few examples.

In some instances, you might be able to feel one or multiple firm lumps or bumps affecting the skin (or right underneath it). Some forms of ectopic calcification may cause pain and they might even ulcerate the skin. In other words, there might be a sore overlying the place where the calcified lump is felt. Other calcifications might end up causing a limited range of motion of a joint.

In more serious cases, such as calcification of cardiovascular structures that relate to the heart, a person may be at increased risk of heart attack or stroke.

That being said, keep in mind that in some cases there may be no noticeable signs or symptoms whatsoever. In fact, the only sign might be an incidental finding of mineralized soft tissue on an X-ray and that's it.

Treatment

The exact treatment for the ectopic calcification will depend on the situation. Sometimes, no treatment is necessary at all. In very rare cases, ectopic calcification might resolve on its own, but don't bank on it.

The underlying cause of the calcification needs to be addressed in serious cases. For instance, if a metabolic disturbance of some sort is at fault, it must be corrected so the calcification doesn't progress.

General considerations for treating the ectopic calcification may include:

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