Hypocalcemia: Symptoms, Treatment, Causes, & More

Calcium Deficiency Disease

What is calcium deficiency disease?


  1. Calcium deficiency disease, also known as hypocalcemia, increases the risk of developing diseases like osteoporosis.
  2. Symptoms of hypocalcemia can include weak hair, nails, memory loss, and seizures.
  3. Taking more than your doctor’s recommended dose of calcium could be fatal.

Calcium is a vital mineral. Your body uses it to stabilize blood pressure and build strong bones and teeth. When you don’t get enough calcium, you increase your risk of developing diseases like osteoporosis, osteopenia, and calcium deficiency disease (hypocalcemia).

You should consume the recommended amount of calcium per day through the food you eat, supplements, or vitamins.

What causes calcium deficiency disease?


The natural aging process can cause calcium deficiency disease. Most of the calcium in your body is stored in your bones. As you age, your bones begin to thin or become less dense. This increases your daily calcium requirement.

For children and teenagers, the recommended daily allowances for calcium are the same for both sexes. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the daily allowances are:

Age groupDaily recommended dietary allowance (RDA)
Children, 9-18 years1,300 mg
Children, 4-8 years1,000 mg
Children, 1-3 years700 mg
Children, 7-12 months260 mg
Children, 0-6 months200 mg

According to the U.S. government’s dietary guidelines, calcium requirements for adults are:

GroupDaily recommended dietary allowance (RDA)
Women, 71 years and up1,200 mg
Women, 51-70 years 1,200 mg
Women, 31-50 years 1,000 mg
Women, 19-30 years 1,000 mg
Men, 71 years and up1,200 mg
Men, 51-70 years 1,000 mg
Men, 31-50 years 1,000 mg
Men, 19-30 years 1,000 mg

Women need to increase their calcium intake earlier in life than men, starting in middle age. Meeting the necessary calcium requirement is particularly important as a woman approaches menopause.

Women in menopause should also increase their calcium intake to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and calcium deficiency disease. The decline in the hormone estrogen during menopause causes a woman’s bones to thin faster.

The hormone disorder hyperparathyroidism may also cause calcium deficiency disease. People with this condition don’t produce enough parathyroid hormone, which controls calcium levels in the blood.

Other causes of calcium deficiency disease include malnutrition and malabsorption. Malabsorption is when your body can’t absorb the vitamins and minerals you need from the food you eat. Additional causes include:

  • low levels of vitamin D, which makes it harder to absorb calcium
  • too much potassium, which can burn up calcium
  • medications, such as those for thyroid replacement

If you miss your daily dose of calcium, you won’t become calcium deficient overnight. But it’s still important to make an effort to get enough calcium every day, since the body uses it quickly. Vegans are more likely to become calcium deficient quickly because they don’t eat calcium-rich dairy products.

Calcium deficiency won’t produce short-term symptoms because the body maintains calcium levels by taking it directly from the bones. But long-term low levels of calcium can have serious effects. 

What are the symptoms of calcium deficiency disease?


Early stage calcium deficiency may not cause any symptoms. However, symptoms will develop as the condition progresses.

Severe symptoms of calcium deficiency disease include:

  • confusion or memory loss
  • muscle spasms
  • numbness and tingling in the hands, feet, and face
  • depression
  • hallucinations
  • muscle cramps
  • weak and brittle nails
  • easy fracturing of the bones

Calcium deficiencies can affect all parts of the body, resulting in weak nails, slower hair growth, and fragile, thin skin.

Calcium also plays an important role in both neurotransmitter release and muscle contraction. So, calcium deficiencies can bring on seizures in otherwise healthy people.

If you start experiencing neurological symptoms like memory loss, numbness and tingling, hallucinations, or seizures, make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible.

How is calcium deficiency disease diagnosed?


Contact your doctor if you have symptoms of calcium deficiency disease. They’ll review your medical history and ask you about family history of calcium deficiency and osteoporosis.

If your doctor suspects calcium deficiency, they’ll take a blood sample to check your blood calcium level. Sustained low calcium levels in your blood may confirm a diagnosis of calcium deficiency disease.

Normal calcium levels for adults can range from 8.8 to 10.4 milligrams per deciliter, according to the Merck Manual. You may be at risk for calcium deficiency disease if your calcium level is below 8.8 mg/dL. Children and teens typically have higher blood calcium levels than adults.

Neonatal hypocalcemia


Neonatal hypocalcemia occurs in infants soon after birth. Most neonatal hypocalcemia occurs within the first two days after birth. But late onset hypocalcemia can occur three days after birth or later.

Risk factors for infants include being small for their age and maternal diabetes. Late onset hypocalcemia is most often caused by drinking cow’s milk or formula with too much phosphate.

Symptoms of neonatal hypocalcemia include:

  • jitteriness
  • poor feeding
  • seizures
  • apnea, or slowed breathing
  • tachycardia, or a faster-than-normal heartbeat

Diagnosis is made by testing an infant’s blood for the total calcium level or ionized calcium level. The infant’s glucose level will also be tested to rule out hypoglycemia.

Treatment typically involves giving intravenous calcium gluconate followed by several days of oral calcium supplements.

How is calcium deficiency disease treated?


Calcium deficiency is usually easy to treat. It typically involves adding more calcium to your diet.

Do not self-treat by taking a lot of calcium supplements. Taking more than the recommended dose without your doctor’s approval can lead to serious issues like kidney stones or even a calcium overdose, which can be fatal.

Commonly recommended calcium supplements include:

  • calcium carbonate, which is the least expensive and has the most elemental calcium
  • calcium citrate, which is the most easily absorbed
  • calcium phosphate, which is also easily absorbed and does not cause constipation

Calcium supplements are available in liquid, tablet, and chewable forms.

It is important to note that some medications could interact negatively with calcium supplements. These medications include:

  • blood pressure beta-blockers like atenolol, which may increase the amount of aluminum absorbed into the blood
  • cholesterol lowering bile acid sequestrants such as colestipol, which may increase the loss of calcium in the urine
  • estrogen medications, which can contribute to an increase in calcium blood levels

Sometimes diet changes and supplements aren’t enough to treat a calcium deficiency. In this case, your doctor may want to regulate your calcium levels by giving you regular calcium injections.

You can expect to see results within the first few weeks of treatment. Severe cases of calcium deficiency disease will be monitored at one- to three-month intervals.

What are the possible complications of calcium deficiency disease?

Complications Icon

Complications from calcium deficiency disease include eye damage, an abnormal heartbeat, and osteoporosis.

Complications from osteoporosis include disability, spinal fractures or other bone fractures, and difficulty walking. If left untreated, calcium deficiency disease could eventually be fatal.

How can calcium deficiency disease be prevented?


You can prevent calcium deficiency disease by including calcium in your diet every day.

Be aware that foods high in calcium, such as dairy products, can also be high in saturated fat and trans fat. Choose low-fat or fat-free options to reduce your risk of developing high cholesterol and heart disease.

You can get one-fourth to one-third of your RDA of calcium in a single serving of some milks and yogurts. According to the USDA, other calcium-rich foods include:

FoodApproximate serving sizeAmount of calcium per serving
Sardines (in oil)3.75 oz.351 mg
Salmon (pink, canned, with bones)3 oz.183 mg
Fortified tofu (regular, not firm)1/3-cup434 mg
Edamame (frozen)1 cup71-98 mg
White beans1 cup161 mg
Collard greens (cooked)1 cup268 mg
Broccoli (cooked)1 cup62 mg
Figs (dried)5 figs68 mg
Fortified orange juice1 cup364 mg
Wheat bread1 slice36 mg

While meeting your calcium requirement is very important, you also want to make sure you’re not getting too much. According to the Mayo Clinic, upper limits of calcium for adults are:

  • 2,000 mg per day for men and women 51 years of age and up
  • 2,500 mg per day for men and women 19 to 50 years of age

You might want to supplement your diet by taking a multivitamin. Or your doctor may recommend supplements if you’re at high risk for developing a calcium deficiency.

Multivitamins may not contain all of the calcium you need, so be sure to eat a well-rounded diet. If you’re pregnant, take a prenatal vitamin.

Read more: The 15 best prenatal vitamins for a healthy pregnancy »

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important because it increases the rate calcium is absorbed into your blood. Ask your doctor how much vitamin D you need.

To increase your calcium intake, you can add food rich in vitamin D to your diet. These include:

  • fatty fish like salmon and tuna
  • fortified orange juice
  • fortified milk
  • portobello mushrooms
  • eggs

As with calcium-rich dairy products, some vitamin D-rich dairy products can also be high in saturated fat.

Lifestyle changes

In addition to maintaining healthy calcium and vitamin D levels, there are certain lifestyle changes you can make to promote bone health. These include maintaining a healthy body weight, exercising regularly, and restricting tobacco use and alcohol intake. 

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