Hypocalcemia

Written by Heaven Stubblefield | Published on December 19, 2013
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on December 19, 2013

What Is Hypocalcemia?

Hypocalcemia is the term for an abnormally low level of calcium in the body. Calcium is necessary to keep bones strong and to help them grow or heal.

Hypocalcemia may be the result of low calcium production or insufficient calcium circulation in the body. A deficiency of magnesium or vitamin D is linked to most cases of hypocalcemia.

What Causes Hypocalcemia?

Many hypocalcemia cases are easily reversible with a dietary change. For example, a deficiency of vitamin D or magnesium may lead to hypocalcemia. Other issues that are less controllable include acute pancreatitis, kidney failure, phosphate or calcium infusion, hypoparathyroidism (most often after surgery), diabetes of the mother (in the case of infants), spreading cancer, and certain drugs.

Who Is at Risk for Hypocalcemia?

Newborn babies are at risk because their bodies are not fully developed. This is especially true for children born to diabetic mothers.

Patients with vitamin D deficiency or magnesium deficiency are also at risk. Other risk factors include a history of gastrointestinal disorders, pancreatitis, renal or liver failure, anxiety disorders, and hyperthyroidism.

What Are the Symptoms of Hypocalcemia?

Some patients show no signs of hypocalcemia. Infants with the condition may twitch or tremor. Adults with this condition may experience:

  • seizures
  • muscle stiffness
  • anxiety or depression
  • hypotension
  • congestive heart failure
  • dementia
  • cataracts
  • eczema
  • dry, coarse skin
  • parkinsonism
  • papilledema

How Is Hypocalcemia Diagnosed?

The first step in diagnosis is a blood test to determine calcium levels.

A doctor may also use mental and physical exams to test for signs of hypocalcemia. A physical exam may include a study of the patient’s hair, skin, and muscles. A mental exam may include tests for dementia, hallucinations, confusion, irritability, and seizures.

A doctor may also test for Chvostek sign or Trousseau sign, which are both linked to hypocalcemia. Chvostek sign is a twitching response when a set of facial nerves is tapped. Trousseau sign is a spasm in the hands or feet that comes from ischemia, a restriction in blood supply to tissues.

How Is Hypocalcemia Treated?

Some cases of hypocalcemia do not require treatment. The condition may simply go away. Other treatments for hypocalcemia are:

Medications

Calcium supplements can boost calcium levels in the body. Vitamin D or magnesium supplements may also help.

Home Care

Your doctor may recommend a calcium-rich diet plan.

Spending time outside in the sun may also increase vitamin D levels. The amount of sun you need depends on how dark your skin is. Young, healthy adults with pale skin should spend ten minutes a day in unprotected sunlight. Those with darker complexions may need up to six times as much exposure. Geographic location, age, time of year, amount of exposed skin, cloud coverage, and other factors may also impact how much sun exposure is needed. Patients who spend long stretches of time in the sun should use sunscreen for protection.

What Is the Outlook for Hypocalcemia?

Symptoms often go away with proper treatment. Patients with chronic hypocalcemia may need medication throughout their lives. This condition is rarely life-threatening. In many cases, it goes away on its own. Patients with hypocalcemia are at risk of developing osteoporosis because their bones release calcium into their bloodstream. Other risks include kidney stones, kidney failure, abnormal heart beats, and problems with the nervous system.

Preventing Hypocalcemia

To prevent this condition, maintain healthy calcium levels in your body. Eat calcium-rich foods. If you don’t get enough vitamin D or magnesium, you may need to add supplements to your diet. If your diet does not include enough calcium, you may also need calcium supplements.

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