Calcium is a mineral that performs many essential functions in the body. Most people are aware that calcium is necessary in the formation of the bones and teeth and in maintaining bone density and strength. However, calcium plays a critical role in other important bodily functions as well, such as muscle contraction, nerve function, blood clotting, enzyme function and heart rhythm. Since calcium is so important to the body, low calcium levels can produce a range of problems, with symptoms ranging from mild ones to, in extreme cases, life-threatening health issues.
Causes of Low Calcium Levels
Hypocalcemia, or low blood calcium levels, can be caused by a number of things, from simply not eating enough calcium-rich foods to a variety of health conditions. Poor absorption of calcium is among the most common causes of hypocalcemia and can be the result of deficiencies in vitamin D or magnesium, as well as over-consumption of phosphates. Certain drugs and health conditions, such as kidney disorders, can interfere with calcium absorption, leading to low calcium levels. Parathyroid disorders can result in hypocalcemia also, as the hormones produced by these glands have much to do with regulating the use and absorption of calcium in the body. Alcoholism can be the source of hypocalcemia, as can inflammation of the pancreas and bone disease.
Symptoms of Hypocalcemia
Low calcium levels can produce a variety of symptoms throughout the body. Neurological signs of calcium deficiency can include muscle cramps or spasms, insomnia, tingling in the hands, feet, or face, twitching of facial muscles, fatigue, seizures and mental confusion or forgetfulness. Cardiac issues, such as high blood pressure, heart arrhythmia and congestive heart failure can be caused by hypocalcemia. Osteoporosis is often an indicator of long-term calcium deficiency.
Low calcium level can be detected with a simple blood test that measures the level of free calcium, which means calcium that is circulating in the blood rather than stored in the bones. A urine test may be performed to measure how much calcium is being eliminated, should an absorption problem be suspected. If you suspect that you are deficient in calcium, be sure to have levels tested before starting a calcium supplement, as too much calcium in the system can also cause health problems, and some symptoms can be similar to those seen with calcium deficiency.
Treating Acute Hypocalcemia
The symptoms of calcium deficiency are most often reversible, if the problem is detected and treated in a timely fashion. Acute hypocalcemia, which is a rapid drop in calcium level, is often treated with an IV infusion of calcium first, and then regular calcium supplementation. Acute hypocalcemia is most often induced by medications or underlying health issues, such as kidney disorders, which will need ongoing treatment and monitoring by a physician.
Relieving Typical Calcium Deficiency
In most other cases, the symptoms can be alleviated by adding calcium-rich foods to the diet, or supplements of both calcium and vitamin D, which aids the body in absorbing calcium. Reducing the intake of phosphates, which are found in carbonated beverages, can be helpful, as can an increase in magnesium intake.