Hypercalcemia (High Calcium Level in the Blood)

Symptom and Description

Hypercalcemia is an abnormally high amount of calcium in the blood. Calcium is needed by the body to function properly. Calcium can affect your nerves, muscles, digestive tract, kidneys, and the way your heart functions. When the calcium level becomes too high, you may develop unusual symptoms. This may occur because your cancer has spread to the bones, causing calcium to be released, or your cancer may release certain hormones that affect the normal systems that control the calcium level in your blood. Usually, you do not cause the calcium level to go up too high by drinking too much milk or by eating too many dairy products; the imbalance occurs because of your cancer. The symptoms may come on gradually or may happen in a short period of time.

Learning Needs

You and your family should learn which signs and symptoms to look for that mean your calcium level is getting too high. Some of these symptoms may also be caused by loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, constipation, or confusion if you are taking strong pain medications. However, it is important for you or your family members to let your doctor or nurse know if you develop any of the following, especially if they are different from the way you usually feel:

  • Fatigue (tired feeling)

  • Excessive sleepiness

  • Confusion

  • Coma

  • Extreme muscle weakness

  • Loss of appetite

  • Nausea, vomiting

  • Stomach pain

  • Constipation

  • Changes in your heartbeat (too slow or too fast)

  • Frequent urination

  • Excessive thirst

  • Dry mucous membranes (the lining of your mouth and throat)

Prevention

Because changes in the calcium level in your blood are influenced by your cancer, the best way to control the calcium is to treat the cancer itself. Your doctor will discuss this with you.

Management

Some people have symptoms when the calcium level is only slightly elevated, whereas others may not develop these symptoms until the level is extremely high. Many medications are available to help control the calcium level—even if the cancer is not being treated. If your calcium level is too high and you are having many problems, you may need to go in the hospital for a short period of time. If it is only mildly high, you might be able to control it at home. The decision of when to treat this condition is usually based on your symptoms, not on the exact level of your blood calcium. Your doctor or nurse will discuss this with you.

For mildly high calcium levels (10.5–12 mg/dL)

  • Drink 2 to 3 quarts of fluid a day

  • If you are able to walk, do it at least two to three times a day

For higher calcium levels (greater than 12 mg/dL) you may be hospitalized, and you can expect:

  • Extra fluids will be given by a needle in your vein

  • Medications will be given to make you urinate (this flushes extra calcium out through your kidneys)

  • Frequent blood draws will be taken to check the level of calcium and other chemicals

  • Calcium-controlling medications may be given by mouth, by shots, or in the vein

Follow-up

  • Blood draws may be necessary

  • Drink 2 to 3 quarts of fluid a day (unless directed not to by your doctor or nurse)

  • Take medications as ordered

  • Report any signs or symptoms of high calcium level to your doctor or nurse

  • Walk as frequently as possible if you are able to


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