What Is Milk-Alkali Syndrome?
Milk-alkali syndrome is a potential consequence of developing high levels of calcium in your blood. Too much calcium in your bloodstream is called hypercalcemia. It can cause your body’s acid/base balance to become more alkaline.
If you have too much calcium in your blood, it may be deposited in your kidneys. This can trigger symptoms, such as excessive urination and fatigue. Over time, this can lead to serious complications. For example, it can cause kidney stones, kidney failure, and even death.
The condition usually improves when you cut down on antacids or high-dose calcium supplements.
Symptoms of Milk-Alkali Syndrome
This condition often involves no noticeable symptoms. When symptoms occur, they’re usually caused by kidney problems.
Symptoms can include:
- high urine output
- headache and confusion
- pain in your abdomen, back, or loin due to kidney stones
Causes of Milk-Alkali Syndrome
Milk-alkali syndrome was once a common side effect of consuming large amounts of milk or dairy products, along with antacids containing calcium.
Today, this condition is usually caused by consuming too much calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is a dietary supplement. You might take it if don’t get enough calcium in your diet.
Calcium supplements are available in two forms: carbonate and citrate. According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements (NIHODS), calcium carbonate is more widely available. It’s also less expensive and more convenient to take.
Many over-the-counter antacids, such as Tums and Maalox, also contain calcium carbonate. Milk-alkali syndrome often results when people don’t realize they’re consuming too much calcium by taking multiple supplements or medications that contain calcium carbonate.
Diagnosing Milk-Alkali Syndrome
Your doctor can typically diagnose this condition with a complete physical exam and blood tests. Talk to you doctor about any symptoms you’re experiencing. Provide a complete list of all prescription and over-the-counter medications and supplements you’re taking. If you don’t provide a full history of medications, your doctor might misdiagnose your symptoms.
Your doctor will likely order a blood test to check the level of calcium in your blood. A normal amount ranges from 8.5 to 10.2 milligrams per deciliter of blood. Higher levels may indicate milk-alkali syndrome.
If left untreated, this condition can lead to calcium deposits in the kidneys. Your doctor may order additional tests to check for complications in your kidneys. These tests may include:
- CT scans
- kidney function testing
Early diagnosis can prevent permanent damage to your kidneys.
Treating Milk-Alkali Syndrome
The goal of treatment is to reduce the amount of calcium in your diet. Complications, such as kidney stones and kidney damage, also have to be treated. If you’re currently taking calcium supplements or antacids for a specific medical condition, tell your doctor. Ask them if there’s an alternative treatment you can try.
To avoid developing milk-alkali syndrome:
- limit or eliminate your use of antacids that contain calcium
- ask your doctor about antacid alternatives
- limit doses of supplemental calcium carbonate
- report continual digestive problems to your doctor
Recommended Dietary Allowances of Calcium
The NIHODS provides the following recommendations for daily calcium intake:
- 0 to 6 months of age: 200 mg
- 7 to 12 months: 260 mg
- 1 to 3 years: 700 mg
- 4 to 8 years: 1,000 mg
- 9 to 18 years: 1,300 mg
- 19 to 50 years: 1,000 mg
- 51 to 70: 1,000 for males, 1,200 mg for females
- 71+ years: 1,200 mg
These are the average amounts of calcium that most healthy people need to consume each day.
If you eliminate or reduce calcium in your diet, your outlook is good. However, untreated milk-alkali syndrome can lead to serious complications. These include:
- calcium deposits in your body’s tissues
- kidney stones
- kidney failure
If you’ve been diagnosed with complications, ask your doctor about your treatment options.