Calcium is a mineral important for different body functions. Abnormal levels of calcium in blood can seriously affect health. Here we will discuss about importance of calcium and problems associated with high calcium levels.
The Role of Calcium in the Body
Calcium is required for bone formation, hormone release, muscle and heart functioning, functioning of the brain and spinal cord, strengthening teeth and blood clothing. Its levels are regulated in the body by the parathyroid hormone, vitamin D and calcitonin.
People mainly obtain calcium from food. The best sources of calcium are dairy products like milk, butter and cheese. Eggs, green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and beans, nuts and whole grain foods like bread, rice and cereals are also rich in calcium.
Calcium is absorbed by the body through the inner lining of the bowel and then stored in the bones. Levels of calcium in blood are managed carefully. If the body does not receive enough calcium, the bones start releasing calcium in the blood. At the same time, absorption of calcium by the bowel increases while elimination of calcium by the kidney via urine decreases. On the other hand, if there is high level of calcium in blood, the mineral is less absorbed and more expelled by the body.
What is Hypercalcemia?
Excess calcium in blood causes disorder known as hypercalcemia. Hypercalcemia can occur due to increased intake of calcium through food, too much calcium leaking out of the bones into blood or kidneys failing to get rid of excess calcium.
Hypercalcemia is a common symptom of cancer. About 10-20% of cancer patients develop it. Hypercalcemia usually accompanies later stages of cancer although it may occur earlier.
There are several types of cancer that commonly lead to hypercalcemia and they include multiple myeloma, breast cancer, kidney cancer, prostate cancer, head and neck cancer and squamous cell cancer. Dehydration due to diarrhea can also lead to hypercalcemia.
Hypercalcemia may cause non-specific symptoms. That is why it is often overlooked. Severity of the symptoms does not reflect the levels of calcium in blood and only slightly elevated levels of calcium can produce very severe symptoms while abnormally high calcium level may manifest in mild form of the disease.
Common signs and symptoms of hypercalcemia are fatigue, lethargy, weakness, constipation, poor concentration and mild confusion. Difficulty walking, talking and eating, personality changes and hallucinations may be also present.
If left untreated, hypercalcemia can lead to drowsiness, frequent urination, increased thirst, dehydration, muscle twitches, tremor, bone pain, coma and death.