A calcium deficiency, also referred to as hypocalcemia, is a condition in which a patient’s blood-calcium level is too low. Calcium is a mineral that plays a vital role in the healthy functioning of many body systems, particularly the bones, muscles, and heart. This deficiency can occur at any time in life and has a variety of causes which can cause a variety of calcium deficiency symptoms.
Many things can cause a deficiency in this mineral. These include:
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Certain blood disorders
- Certain types of leukemia
- Chronic renal failure
- Magnesium deficiency
- Biphosphonate therapy
- Certain dietary habits, such as consuming soda and caffeine
- Tumor lysis syndrome
- Certain drugs and medications, such as certain antibiotics, diuretics, magnesium supplementation, estrogen replacement therapy, excessive use of laxatives, fluorides, insulin, and glucose
Calcium deficiency symptoms affect all patients differently, but they should never be ignored. These include:
- Neuromuscular irritability: muscles and nerves directly associated with the levels of calcium in the blood, twitch or spasm
- Confusion or disorientation: the electrolyte disturbance associated with this deficiency can lead to irregular contraction of the heart muscle which can cause confusion or disorientation
- Muscle cramps in the arms or legs
- Increased irritability or depression
- Tingling or numbness in the toes and fingers
If a patient becomes deficient in this mineral over time, they may not notice any symptoms. However, if the calcium levels in their blood drops suddenly, or “acutely”, they may experience more twitching.
Children with this deficiency can experience some of the same symptoms as adults do, but most of their symptoms will be different. In children, the symptoms include:
- Muscle Twitches
- Poor feeding
First, the doctor will perform a complete physical exam and obtain a complete medical history. They will ask the patient about their symptoms, or as the parents if the patient is a young child or infant. They will then confirm whether this deficiency is the cause of the patient’s symptoms by having the patient take a blood test that will measure the amount of calcium in their blood.
Treating this deficiency almost always involves supplementation. When supplementing children and infants, doctors will prescribe either oral calcium gluconate or intravenous calcium gluconate. The exact amount will depend on their age and the severity of their deficiency. Adults are often prescribed an oral calcium supplement and the exact dose and amount will depend on the severity of their deficiency. Ideally, adults need a certain amount of calcium each day to maintain a healthy level. These include:
Men 25 to 65 years old should consume 1,000 milligrams per day.
Men older than 65 years old should consume 1,500 milligrams per day.
Women 25 to 50 years old should consume 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams per day.
Women older than 50 years old should consume 1,500 milligrams per day.
Patients will also need to consume 400 to 800 milligrams of vitamin D per day. Vitamin D is responsible for the body absorbing calcium so without it calcium will not be absorbed well, leading to further deficiency. Patients who are deficient in calcium should also be tested for a vitamin D deficiency. This is also done with a simple blood test.
Calcium replacement therapy is another treatment option. However, this is reserved for those with more severe deficiencies and those who have conditions that lead to this deficiency. Other treatments include calcium infusion and correcting any underlying causes.
The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. (2005). Hypocalcemia. Retrieved on January 27, 2010 from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation: https://www.chemocare.com/managing/hypocalcemia-low-calcium.asp
University of Virginia Health System. (2008). Hypocalcemia. Retrieved on January 27, 2010 from the University of Virginia Health System: https://www.healthsystem.virginia.edu/UVAHealth/peds_hrnewborn/hypocal.cfm
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