EDP column by Dr Ketan Dhatariya

“My doctor did a blood test on me because I felt tired. They tell me I have a high calcium level. What is this?"

Calcium is an important mineral in the body that helps to control movement. It is involved when muscles move or when something moves from one side of a cell to another. The levels of calcium are held very tightly in the blood to ensure that there is not too much or too little. There is a chemical in the body – a hormone – called parathyroid hormone that helps to regulate how much calcium is in the blood. This hormone is produced by the four parathyroid glands in the neck.

Calcium in the blood comes from three places, what you eat or drink; how much is passed in the urine and how much is in the bones. If the calcium levels drop then the hormone levels rise and absorb more calcium from the diet, allow less to be passed in the urine and take a bit more out of the bones. Occasionally one of the four parathyroid glands may become overactive and produce too much hormone. As the calcium levels rise, the overactive gland does not do as it should and keeps producing more hormone, and the calcium levels may continue to rise.

This condition is quite common. Depending on how high the calcium levels are in the blood, on what symptoms you are experiencing and also how much calcium has been taken out of your bones determines what action needs to be taken. The vast majority of people need no further action other than a blood test twice a year to see what the calcium levels are doing. However, if they continue to rise then you might need to be have some images taken of your neck to find out where the overactive gland is, because the most common treatment for this is a small operation to take it out.

There are a few other, often more serious, causes of raised calcium levels that need to be excluded. Most of these can be done by doing simple blood and urine tests. Your doctor will very likely have done many of those when they sent you for your initial blood test, however there are some more specialised tests that may be needed. Your doctor may then need to send you up to the hospital to see a specialist if they feel this is necessary.

For more information about Hypercalcaemia click this link: