Around 1.8 million Americans have a condition called hypercalcemia, meaning they have calcium levels that are too high. This is not simply a matter of too much calcium in the diet, since it’s normally metabolized; hypocalcemia is a medical condition. About half of all cases have no symptoms. Other patients will experience kidney stones, abdominal pain bone pain, nausea, and in some cases anxiety and depression. Excess calcium leads to increased stomach acid production, meaning people with the condition can get ulcers or even pancreatitis.
People are especially prone to hypercalcemia who take lithium or who have cancers such as squamous-cell carcinoma, lung cancer, or breast cancer. Excessive vitamin A or vitamin D can also lead to calcium levels that are too high. Another cause of hypercalcemia is inactivity. When bones are underused, they release calcium into the bloodstream. This weakens the bones by lowering bone mass, and it also overwhelms the body’s ability to process calcium.
Now researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles have found another possible risk factor for hypercalcemia: parathyroid disease, specifically a kind called hyperparathyroidism in which the parathyroid glands, found next to the thyroid in the neck, are overactive. The study was one of the first to look at hyperparathyroidism in subjects from a variety of racial backgrounds, as opposed to primarily white people. This is important because the condition is typically found in African-American women. The parathyroid gland is responsible for regulating calcium, and problems with the gland cause this regulation to go awry.
The parathyroid condition is associated with several factors, including radiation treatment involving the neck and certain rare hereditary conditions. It is also frequently found in women who have been through menopause. In addition to excess calcium, symptoms include pain in the abdomen, forgetfulness, needing to urinate a lot, osteoporosis, and fatigue. People with the condition often feel generally sick and run-down with, if hyperparathyroidism has not been diagnosed and is not otherwise apparent, no clear reason.