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Diseases & Conditions

Hypercalcemia

What is hypercalcemia?

Hypercalcemia refers to levels of calcium in your blood that are higher than normal. Calcium is important to many body processes, including bone growth, maintaining proper hormone levels, and correct functioning of nerves, muscles, and the brain. Hypercalcemia is fairly rare, affecting between 0.1 percent and 1 percent of the population. Postmenopausal women are more likely to be diagnosed with this condition.

What are the symptoms of hypercalcemia?

Although showing symptoms of hypercalcemia is uncommon, symptoms can include:

  • Frequent urination and/or thirst
  • Hard to-treat increased blood pressure
  • Bone pain
  • Loss of height
  • Nausea, vomiting, or decrease in appetite
  • Forgetfulness
  • Depression or irritability
  • Muscular weakness and/or twitches

What causes hypercalcemia?

Hypercalcemia is usually caused by problems with the parathyroid glands or some cancers; in fact, these two causes represent nearly 90% of all hypercalcemia cases. The four parathyroid glands, located near your Adam's apple and behind the thyroid glands, produce parathyroid hormone. This hormone works with vitamin D and calcitonin to maintain a healthy level of calcium in the blood. Calcitonin is produced by the specialized cells in the thyroid gland.

Genetics or certain medicines, particularly lithium (Eskalith CR®, Eskalith®, or Lithobid®), may prevent the body from maintaining proper blood calcium levels and so result in too much calcium in the blood. Other less common causes of hypercalcemia include:

  • Taking in too much vitamin D or calcium (dietary or supplemental)
  • Granulomatous inflammatory diseases, such as sarcoidosis, and some fungal infections
  • Failure of kidneys or adrenal glands
  • Hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid or fast metabolism)
  • Being bedridden
  • Taking thiazide diuretics (medicines that increase urination)

How is hypercalcemia diagnosed?

Your doctor will need a blood test to determine if you have hypercalcemia. The doctor will check the sample to see if you have high levels of calcium and also check to see if you have any illnesses that are causing hypercalcemia. For a urine test, you will need to collect urine over a 24-hour period to assess severity of the hypercalcemia.

How is hypercalcemia treated?

Treatment of hypercalcemia depends on what is causing the disorder and how severe it is. If it is in an early stage and the cause is an overactive parathyroid gland, there are several options:

  • You may be closely monitored by your doctor.
  • You may be given fluids to treat dehydration.
  • You may be prescribed a medication such as cinacalcet (Sensipar®) to better control your condition.
  • You may be prescribed medications to control bone loss.
  • You may be hospitalized in severe cases.
  • You may need to undergo surgery and have your parathyroid gland removed.

How can hypercalcemia be prevented?

Hypercalcemia usually cannot be prevented. Because of this, it is good to know your family history as well as the symptoms to watch for. Women 50 and older should ask their doctor to check their blood calcium levels. Also, ask your doctor before you take calcium or vitamin D supplements to be sure you really need them.

What is the prognosis (outlook)?

Prognosis, like treatment, depends on the cause and severity of hypercalcemia. If you are only slightly hypercalcemic, you will probably have few or no health complications. Also, if the cause is genetic or dietary, the outlook is optimistic. When hypercalcemia is the result of a different medical issue, the prognosis depends on your overall health and your specific condition.

What complications could occur?

Complications are unlikely since hypercalcemia is easy to detect. However, if not detected and treated, the following health effects could occur:

  • Osteoporosis and bone fractures
  • Kidney stones or failure
  • Hypertension
  • Ulcer

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 05/03/2010…#14597