The build-up of calcium deposits within the soft tissues of the body is known as calcinosis. There are several main types of calcinosis; each category is thought to be caused by different factors, and each has its own characteristic set of symptoms, although some may be similar. Calcinosis sufferers have a number of available treatment options; however, the best treatment for any individual is determined by the extent of his or her condition.
Calcium deposits occur when large amounts of calcium phosphate crystals clump together in the body. These deposits can occur in any soft tissue in the body and often accumulate near organs, joints and directly under the skin. The most common locations for calcium deposits are under the skin of the fingers, and near the shoulders, knees or elbows, but the deposits can occur anywhere. The lumps, which are soft and small at first, harden and gradually grow over time. Depending on their location, they can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms.
The location, severity and symptoms associated with the deposits depend largely on the type of calcinosis. There are two main categories of calcinosis: metastatic and dystrophic.
Metastatic calcinosis symptoms
Metastatic calcinosis occurs commonly in individuals suffering from kidney disease, overactive parathyroid glands (resulting in abnormally high-calcium levels) or underactive parathyroid glands (resulting in abnormally high phosphate levels). Patients suffering from metastatic calcinosis can develop whitish calcium deposits under their skin; if the skin ruptures, a white, chalky liquid may be produced. The deposits in this form of the condition can also occur near joints, especially the shoulder joint, and severe shoulder pain and inflammation can occur as the deposit becomes larger.
Dystrophic calcinosis symptoms
Dystrophic calcinosis occurs, not because of abnormal calcium or phosphate levels, but at a portion of soft tissue that has recently been damaged, either through surgery, injury, or from autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. In cases of dystrophic calcinosis, the calcium deposits may not be painful at first but can cause severe pain and inflammation as the clumps grow in size. If the deposits are located near an organ, they can cause pain and symptoms specific to the organ they are pressing against.
Metastatic calcinosis is linked with systemic health problems, but the reason for dystrophic calcinosis is unknown. Women between the ages of 35 and 65 tend to be diagnosed more often with the disease than men, and some studies indicate that inherited abnormalities in the metabolism of phosphate may also play a role.
Medication and surgical removal are the two main treatment options for individuals suffering from calcium deposits, though neither is effective at preventing new deposits from forming in the future. Anti-coagulant medications can decrease the size of small deposits, while anti-inflammatory drugs can be used to decrease the pain caused by deposits located near joints. When the calcium deposits become extremely large or threaten an organ, surgical removal is the quickest and most effective option.