Too much calcium in the blood, or hypercalcemia, can interfere with bone growth, brain and hormone function and the contraction of muscles. There are several possible explanations for this condition, though in most cases it's related to parathyroid problems.
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In many cases, people with too much calcium in their blood also have a parathyroid condition known as hyperparathyroidism. It's caused by the growth of a tumour in a parathyroid gland that causes the gland to produce too much parathyroid hormone. The four parathyroid glands regulate the amount of calcium in the blood as well as the bones, so too much hormone leads to an imbalance of calcium. Post-menopausal women are particularly susceptible to an overactive parathyroid gland.
About 10 per cent to 20 per cent of cancer patients face some degree of hypercalcemia (mild to severe), according to the Cancer Supportive Care Programs. Patients with lung cancer, breast cancer and multiple myeloma are at the highest risk of elevated calcium levels among cancer patients. Malignant cells trigger calcium loss in the bones, causing the bloodstream to absorb more calcium than normal.
Too much calcium in the blood can result in uncomfortable symptoms, such as stomach pain or even kidney stones if the condition lasts for a long time. You may also become lethargic and depressed. If the hypercalcemia is the result of calcium leaching from bones (as opposed to parathyroid disease), you are also at a higher risk of fractures from falls.
If you're pregnant or at risk of osteoporosis, or your doctor has determined that your calcium levels are lower than normal, he or she may have recommended a calcium supplement. In general, taking a calcium supplement isn't likely to result in hypercalcemia. If your doctor does recommend a supplement, make sure you follow the prescribed dosage.
If you have mild hypercalcemia, your doctor may simply recommend more exercise and a healthy diet, while monitoring your calcium levels more closely in the months and years ahead. If you have more moderate or severe hypercalcemia, your doctor may prescribe medications such as bisphosphonates. It will also be especially important that you stay well hydrated during treatment and have your blood work done as directed by your doctor to make sure your levels of calcium, potassium, vitamin D and other biochemicals are in balance.
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