What are calcium deposits?
Calcium deposits, or calcification, can occur when calcium builds up in your body. This buildup of calcium can harden in your tissues, organs or blood vessels. When this happens, your body's normal processes may not run correctly.
Your bones and teeth use almost all the calcium in your body (about 99%). The remaining calcium dissolves in your blood. It travels to different parts of your body through your bloodstream. Some calcification is normal. Your body may just be responding to an injury or inflammation.
But certain conditions can cause calcium deposits to occur in places they shouldn’t. This includes areas such as your brain, kidneys and blood vessels. This can cause problems with how your organs and blood vessels function.
What are the different types of calcifications?
Calcium deposits can occur in many different places in your body. Types of calcification include:
Calcium deposits on your skin are called calcinosis cutis. Calcinosis cutis can occur anywhere in your body. Calcium deposits on your fingertips are most common. But calcium deposits may appear on your face, including your eyelids. They may also occur on your joints, such as your elbows and knees.
Calcium deposits under your skin look like firm white or yellow bumps. The bumps may be different sizes and sometimes show up in clusters. At first, you may notice redness or itching on your skin. But most people don’t have any symptoms before calcium deposits appear.
Your teeth need calcium to make healthy enamel. Enamel helps protect your teeth, but sometimes excess calcium deposits can occur on your teeth. The deposits can build up around the roots of your teeth and in your dental pulp. Your dental pulp is in the middle of your tooth.
Calcium deposits on your teeth may occur due to accidents or dental injuries. They may also be a sign of a health issue such as kidney stones. A rare genetic disorder called familial hyperphosphatemic tumoral calcinosis can also cause calcification. This disorder causes high levels of phosphate and calcification in your body.
Calcium deposits in your breasts usually don’t cause any symptoms. They’re too small to feel. Your healthcare provider may discover breast calcifications during a routine mammogram. On a mammogram, they look like small, bright white spots.
Calcium deposits on your breasts are usually harmless. But they can be a sign that you’re at risk for developing breast cancer. If abnormal calcification shows up on a mammogram, your radiologist may recommend more testing.
Calcium deposits in your shoulders can cause pain and discomfort when you move. You may notice a decreased range of motion. But sometimes shoulder calcification causes no symptoms. Your healthcare provider may find them during an imaging test for an unrelated condition.
A condition called calcific tendonitis develops when calcium deposits build up in your tendons or muscles. Calcific tendonitis can occur anywhere in your body, but it most often affects your rotator cuff. Your rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the ball of your shoulder joint. Your rotator cuff keeps the ball of your shoulder joint in your shoulder socket.
Primary familial brain calcification is a condition that causes calcification in the blood vessels in your brain. The calcium deposits usually occur in structures in your brain called basal ganglia. Your basal ganglia control movement in your body.
Symptoms of this type of calcification include movement disorders. These disorders include dystonia, tremors and unsteady walk (gait). You may also experience psychiatric or behavioral problems. These include difficulty concentrating, personality changes, memory loss and dementia.
A condition called nephrocalcinosis occurs when too much calcium builds up in your kidneys. This type of calcification usually occurs in the inner part of your kidney, the renal medulla. Most of the time, the condition affects both of your kidneys.
If you have nephrocalcinosis, you may also have high levels of calcium in your blood or urine. Nephrocalcinosis is related to kidney stones. You may have extreme pain and see blood when you’re peeing, along with a fever. But you may not have any symptoms at all.
Calcium deposits in your arteries (blood vessels) can cause them to stiffen. This increases your risk for problems with your cardiovascular system. Coronary artery calcification increases with age, with deposits found in 90% of men and 67% of women older than age 70.
Studies have shown that artery calcification is an early sign of atherosclerosis. In addition, all people with coronary artery disease have calcification in their arteries. Coronary artery disease develops when blood vessels to your heart become blocked or narrowed.
Symptoms and Causes
What causes calcium deposits?
A diet high in calcium doesn’t cause calcification. A variety of causes and risk factors can contribute to calcium deposits. These include infections, aging and past surgeries or cancer treatments. Other causes of calcification may include:
- Inflammation: Inflammation can cause tissue damage. This can cause your body to release proteins that bind calcium in clumps.
- Calcium metabolism disorders: These types of disorders can lead to a condition called hypercalcemia. Hypercalcemia occurs when you have too much calcium in your blood.
- Certain autoimmune disorders: Autoimmune diseases that affect your skeletal system or connective tissues can cause calcification.
Diagnosis and Tests
How are calcium deposits diagnosed?
Diagnosis of calcium deposits depends on the type of calcification. Your healthcare provider can usually diagnose calcium deposits on your skin by a physical examination.
Your healthcare provider may need to order imaging tests to diagnose other types of calcification. They can find calcium deposits on X-rays or CT scans. Your healthcare provider may also order a calcium blood test. This test measures the level of calcium in your blood.
Your healthcare provider may order a biopsy of a calcium deposit. A biopsy collects a sample of the tissue for testing. A pathologist will examine the tissue sample in a laboratory to confirm or rule out a cancer diagnosis.
Management and Treatment
How are calcium deposits removed?
Treatment for calcification depends on the location and cause of the deposits. Your healthcare provider may recommend the following to get rid of calcium deposits:
- Skin: You may not need treatment if the calcium deposits on your skin don’t cause any pain or discomfort. Depending on the type of skin calcification, your healthcare provider may recommend certain drugs. These drugs include calcium channel blockers and corticosteroids.
- Teeth: If calcium deposits are due to dental injuries, you may not need treatment if your tooth is healthy. If you’re worried about discoloration, your dentist may be able to bleach your tooth. Infected teeth may require a root canal. If teeth calcification is due to another reason, your healthcare provider will address the condition causing the calcification.
- Breasts: Calcium deposits in your breasts usually don’t require treatment. Your radiologist may compare future mammogram images with previous ones to check for changes. If tests show you have calcifications that may be cancerous, your healthcare provider will refer you to an oncologist. An oncologist is a doctor that specializes in cancer.
- Shoulders: Your healthcare provider may recommend rest and physical therapy. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may also help with calcium deposits in your shoulders. If these options don’t help, they may recommend steroid injections or irrigation with an anesthetic or saline solution.
- Brain: Your healthcare provider can’t remove calcium deposits on your brain. But they can help you control your symptoms. For instance, they can prescribe certain medications for seizures or the effects of conditions such as dystonia.
- Kidneys: Your healthcare provider may recommend diet changes to help with calcium deposits in your kidneys. They may suggest medicines and supplements that can help reduce abnormal levels of calcium in your blood and urine. Your healthcare provider may also recommend kidney stone treatments to get rid of calcium deposits in your kidneys. They may prescribe a diuretic to help prevent future calcification.
- Arteries: Your healthcare provider may suggest changes to your diet to lower your risks for complications. Complications of calcium deposits in your arteries can include high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes and kidney disease.
How can I prevent calcium deposits?
You may be able to prevent calcium deposits by monitoring your health and seeing your healthcare provider regularly. If you’re 65 or older, your healthcare provider may recommend blood tests to track your calcium levels. If you’re under 65 and have a heart defect or kidney issues, you’ll likely find that calcium deposits occur more frequently. Your healthcare provider may recommend calcification tests.
In addition, certain medications can affect the calcium levels in your body. These medications include:
- Blood pressure medicines.
- Cholesterol-lowering drugs.
- Hormone replacement therapy.
- Calcium carbonate supplements.
Talk to your healthcare provider to better understand the effects these medications can have on your calcium levels.
Also, quitting smoking may help prevent calcium deposits. Smoking causes an increase in calcifications in your heart and arteries.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have a calcium deposit?
You won’t normally know you have a calcium deposit, as most don’t cause symptoms. You’ll often find out about a calcification when having imaging tests done for other conditions. The outlook (prognosis) for calcium deposits depends on the location and underlying cause for them. Some calcifications are harmless. But hardened deposits on your brain or heart can have serious complications.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Calcification occurs when you have a buildup of excess calcium in your body. Calcium deposits can form all over your body, including in your soft tissues, arteries and organs. Some calcium deposits are harmless, but others can be a sign of a serious health condition. You may or may not have symptoms. If you do, see your healthcare provider. They can diagnose and treat your condition. Treatment for calcification depends on the cause and location of the deposits.
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