Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and one of the most important. Our bodies use calcium to build and fix bones and teeth, help nerves work, make muscles contract, aid in blood clotting, and to help our heart beat. That being said, almost all of the calcium in our bodies is stored in the bones (99%). Typically, our bodies carefully regulate the amount of calcium in the bloodstream. When levels are low, our bones release calcium. When levels are too high, our bones absorb the excess calcium or it is excreted through stool and urine. Factors that determine the amount of calcium in your body include: diet, phosphate levels, how much calcium and vitamin D your intestines absorb, and certain hormones (parathyroid hormone, calcitonin, and estrogen). It is critical to get the right amount of calcium in your diet because the human body loses calcium everyday. This is particularly true for pregnant women. The process of creating a baby requires a large amount of calcium. Frequently, the needed calcium will be taken from the mother’s bones during fetal development. This can put mothers at an increased risk for conditions like osteoporosis (brittle bones) in their older age. Newborns, particularly premature and low birth-weight infants, are often monitored during the first few days of life to determine if their bodies have matured enough to self-regulate calcium levels. An abnormal calcium level may resolve or may require treatment. Most people who have low or high levels of calcium do not start experiencing symptoms until the level becomes very high or vey low. A health practitioner may order a calcium test when someone has:
- Kidney disease
- Symptoms of high calcium
- Symptoms of low calcium
- Symptoms of diseases associated with abnormal blood calcium such as:
- Thyroid disease
- Parathyroid disorder
It is important to note that blood calcium levels do not reflect the calcium stored in bones, only the calcium circulating in the blood; therefore, a good blood calcium score does not necessarily indicate healthy bones.
Normal Ranges in mg/dL:
0-10 days: 7.6-10.4
11 days - 2 years: 9.0-11.0
3-12 yrs: 8.8-10.8 m
>12 yrs: 8.6-10.3
A low calcium level, called hypocalcemia, typically presents with symptoms such as: muscle cramps, spasms, and twitching / tingling in the fingers and around the mouth. Hypocalcemia typically results from low blood protein levels, especially a low level of albumin. Low albumins levels can be caused by liver disease, which may result from alcoholism or other illnesses. High levels of phosphate in the blood (which can be due to kidney failure) and malnutrition (which can be caused by diseases such as celiac disease and pancreatitis) are also known to lower levels of calcium in the blood.
A high calcium level, called hypercalcemia, typically presents with symptoms such as: fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, constipation, abdominal pain, and increased thirst. The two more common causes of hypercalcemia are hyperparathyroidism, an increase in parathyroid function, or cancer. Prolonged immobilization, excessive vitamin D intake, kidney transplant, and HIV/AIDS can also cause elevated calcium levels in the blood.
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