Calcium is an essential mineral for bone and tooth health. When calcium is deposited in other places in the body it is called calcification. Some calcification is common and can only be identified by x-ray, while other calcification can lead to painful and dangerous conditions.
Most of the calcium in the body goes to the bones and teeth. In normal circumstances, the rest of the calcium taken into the body is dissolved in the blood. Sometimes metabolic disorders cause the body to deposit calcium in other places, such as soft tissue, organs or arteries.
Injury is a common cause of soft tissue calcification. The body initiates inflammation to help repair injuries, which can result in calcium being deposited in tissue near the injury. Parasitic infections can also cause calcification. Cysticercosis, caused by the pork tapeworm, is commonly related to calcification. In addition, tumours may calcify after being treated by radiation or chemotherapy. A more extreme disorder is heterotopic ossification, when actual bone forms outside of the skeleton. This condition is a common complication of head and spinal injuries.
Calcium deposits and calcification may appear anywhere in the body. Calcification in soft tissue due to injury occurs at the site of the original injury. Calcification due to cysticercosis often appears in muscle fibre and calcified tumours will be located at the tumour sites. Heterotopic ossification is most common at the hips. Women often develop calcium deposits in the breasts that may sometimes indicate cancer, but are usually benign.
Minor calcification can go unnoticed, however some soft tissue calcium deposits may cause pain. Calcification can occur inside body organs or the vascular system. Calcification in the brain can be serious and arterial calcification increases heart attack risks. Tumoral calcinosis can produce large, calcified growths dircetly under the skin.
Since injuries often lead to calcium deposits in the body, individuals who suffer fewer injuries are at less risk for this type of calcification. Oregon State University's Linus Pauling Institute and the Department of Agriculture both site research indicating that vitamin K may have a role in preventing some calcification, but this role is unclear.