Hypercalcemia: What Happens If Your Calcium Levels Are Too High?

You think of calcium. That’s like milk, right? Ha.

Well, it’s more than that. When the amounts of calcium in your blood are too high, that’s called hypercalcemia.

In the past, complications such as bone loss and bone fractures, kidney stones, kidney failure, hypertension and bradycardia (slowed heart rate), were commonly found as a result of longstanding untreated high calcium levels. These are now rarely seen thanks to blood tests that lead to preventive treatment.

While it’s not great for your body to reach high calcium levels, it’s treatable. It’s also a fairly common occurrence. 

So why is it bad?

Anyone can get hypercalcemia. You can develop mild hypercalcemia, moderate hypercalcemia, or severe hypercalcemia. Mild hypercalcemia rarely requires immediate medical treatment.

According to this report, 24% of the patients in this study who were identified with mild hypercalcemia were discharged from the ED. Many patients with hypercalcemia may have hyperparathyroidism amenable to surgical correction. 

Hypercalcemia with malignancy results from increased bone resorption and release of calcium from bone secondary to four different mechanisms present in underlying malignant processes.

Sometimes family medical history can play into it if you have a history of kidney stones. But anyone can develop it at any stage of life.

What are the signs and symptoms of hypercalcemia?

Most patients with hypercalcemia, or who have mildly elevated calcium, don’t even know it. It’s usually discovered accidentally when you go to the doctor for a routine physical or a routine blood test.

Symptoms of hypercalcemia, although uncommon, can include:

  • Frequent urination and thirst
  • Fatigue, bone pain and headaches
  • Nausea, vomiting and constipation
  • Forgetfulness or memory loss
  • Lethargy and depression
  • Muscle aches

What causes high blood calcium? 

Hypercalcemia can be caused by some diseases, blood pressure medications, and dehydration. Overactive parathyroid glands, or hyperparathyroidism are also a culprit. It can result in excess parathyroid hormone being released and elevate your blood calcium level.

When the levels of calcium are high because of an overactive parathyroid gland, that means the calcium is coming from the bones and that is a concern.

Taking too many calcium supplements or calcium-based antacid tablets is one of the common causes of hypercalcemia.

Be very careful about calcium antacids tablets. Taking an occasional tablet is not harmful. But if you’re taking more than one or two per week, let your primary care physician know. That may be a sign that something else needs to be investigated.

Can you get hypercalcemia from cancer? Some patients fear cancer is the reason for excess calcium. If your calcium levels spiked suddenly and it’s in the 12-to-15 range (10 is typically considered normal), then it could be a sign of cancer.

Treatment of hypercalcemia 

Once you receive a diagnosis of hypercalcemia, there are ways to treat it to get it back to a normal range. You can get adequate calcium through your diet alone, especially by eating plenty of dairy products and dark leafy greens.

Those are safe ways to get wonderful calcium sources in your diet.

Sometimes, calcium supplements are necessary for people who do not tolerate dairy or other calcium sources in the diet. But again, be careful not to take too many.

Be sure to also stay well hydrated with water.

Hypercalcemia is typically not a major cause for concern unless you ignore it over the course of the long haul. If your level of calcium is high, your physician will refer you to a specialist so be sure to keep that appointment.