What is Hypercalcemia? - Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

You may have been warned about not getting enough calcium, but what happens when there is too much calcium in your blood? This is a condition called hypercalcemia, and it can be harmful to your body. Read this lesson to learn more.

What is Hypercalcemia?

Hypercalcemia is the condition where too much calcium builds up in the bloodstream. We've been trained to think of calcium only as a necessity, but too much of it in the blood can actually harm your bones, kidneys, heart, and brain. Your body regulates the blood very closely, and a very specific calcium range is usually present. Usually, when calcium levels become high, it's a slight elevation that persists for a long period of time (chronic), although, in rare cases, the calcium concentration may suddenly spike.

Causes of Hypercalcemia

Your body is constantly trying to maintain a happy balance, but sometimes this balance is upset. What causes too much calcium to build up in the blood? The most common cause is a malfunctioning of the parathyroid glands, the parts of the body specifically responsible for calcium regulation. The parathyroid glands (you have four of them) sometimes become overactive, resulting in elevated calcium levels. Other conditions that may result in hypercalcemia include cancer, dehydration, hereditary conditions, dietary supplements, and side effects from medications.

The parathyroid glands are shown in green and are found in the neck. These glands are responsible for regulating calcium.
parathyroid glands

Symptoms of Hypercalcemia

Minor cases of hypercalcemia might not display any symptoms at all, and you wouldn't even know you had an imbalance. After all, very few of us diligently check our blood calcium levels on a regular basis, right? However, if the blood calcium levels become too high, your body will begin reacting negatively. The most commonly experienced symptoms are excessive thirst and urination, and perhaps abdominal pain.

Excess calcium causes the kidneys to work harder because there's more waste to filter. Urination increases and kidney stones may develop (ouch!). Hypercalcemia can also affect the digestive system, resulting in nausea, vomiting, general upset stomach, or constipation.

Where does this excess calcium come from? Good question, it comes from your bones, so elevated calcium levels indicate your bones are weakening from the loss of calcium. Bones can begin to ache or become weakened enough they break. Finally, elevated calcium levels may cause confusion and fatigue in the brain.

A diagram depicting how different parts of the body are affected by excess calcium.

Treatment Options

How is hypercalcemia treated? The most mild cases might not require any treatment; it may be a condition that will eventually correct itself. But more serious conditions require intervention.

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