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Hypercalcemia is too much calcium in the blood.
Calcium is important to many body functions, including:
Parathyroid hormone (PTH) and vitamin D help manage calcium balance in the body. PTH is made by the parathyroid glands -- four small glands located in the neck behind the thyroid gland. Vitamin D is obtained when the skin is exposed to sunlight, and from dietary sources such as:
Primary hyperparathyroidism is the most common cause of hypercalcemia. It is due to excess PTH release by the parathyroid glands. This excess occurs due to an enlargement of one or more of the parathyroid glands, or a growth (usually not cancer) on one of the glands.
Other medical conditions can also cause hypercalcemia:
Hypercalcemia affects less than 1 percent of the population. The ability to measure blood calcium since the 1960s has improved detection. Today, the condition is diagnosed at an early stage so most patients with hypercalcemia have no symptoms.
Women over age 50 are most likely to have hypercalcemia, usually due to primary hyperparathyroidism.
Treatment is aimed at the cause of hypercalcemia whenever possible. In people with primary hyperparathyroidism (PHPT), surgery may be needed to remove the abnormal parathyroid gland and cure the hypercalcemia.
However, if the hypercalcemia is mild, your health care provider will offer you the option of monitoring your condition closely over time.
Severe hypercalcemia that causes symptoms and requires a hospital stay is treated with the following:
How well you do depends on the cause of hypercalcemia. Patients with mild hyperparathyroidism or hypercalcemia with a treatable cause do well and usually do not have complications.
Patients with hypercalcemia due to conditions such as cancer or granulomatous disease may not do well, but this is usually due to the disease itself, rather than the hypercalcemia.
These complications of long-term hypercalcemia are uncommon today.
Contact your physician or health care provider if you have:
Most causes of hypercalcemia cannot be prevented. Women over age 50 should see their health care provider regularly and have their blood calcium level checked if they have symptoms of hypercalcemia.
You can avoid hypercalcemia from calcium and vitamin D supplements by contacting your health care provider for advice about the dose if you are taking supplements without a prescription.
Bringhurst R, Demay MB, Kronenberg HM. Hormones and disorders of mineral metabolism. In: Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 27.
Wysolmerski JJ, Insogna KL. The parathyroid glands, hypercalcemia, and hypocalcemia. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 266.