Too much calcium in the blood can be a pain (literally) in the neck

A lot of things can make us not feel well, but there is one common condition that many people may not be aware of that can have a big impact on our health: too much calcium in our blood.

Calcium is one of the most important elements in our body. It is responsible for our bone strength and plays vital roles in blood clotting, muscle contraction, and nerve and brain function.

Because calcium is so important, there are a number of factors that control the calcium levels in our blood. The most important factor is a hormone called parathyroid hormone (PTH). PTH comes from four tiny glands in our neck — the parathyroid glands. These glands live behind a larger gland in the neck, called the thyroid gland. PTH controls our calcium levels by acting on the kidneys and releasing the calcium stored in our bones.

Occasionally, one or more than one of the parathyroid glands may make too much hormone. This condition is known as primary hyperparathyroidism. When this happens, calcium is sucked out of the bones and dumped into our blood, where it can cause a number of problems, including:

  • Tiredness.
  • General sense of not feeling well.
  • Memory loss, confusion or mental fogginess.
  • Stomach and digestive problems.
  • Kidney stones.
  • Muscle, joint and bone pain.
  • Bone weakness, osteoporosis or fractures.

Primary hyperparathyroidism is a common hormone disorder. It primarily affects people over age 50, but can occur at any age. Women are affected more frequently than men.

Most often, the first sign of a parathyroid problem is a high calcium level on routine bloodwork. Further evaluation with a blood test to check both the calcium and the PTH levels can confirm the presence of primary hyperparathyroidism.

Unfortunately, there is no medicine you can take to cure primary hyperparathyroidism. The only way to solve the problem is with an operation, in which the bad parathyroid glands are removed. Surgery should be considered by most patients, because the effects of primary hyperparathyroidism on the bones usually worsens with time.

It is important to choose a surgeon who is experienced in parathyroid surgery. There are a number of factors that contribute to a successful operation, and an experienced surgeon will have the best chance at curing the problem.

If you have concerns about your calcium level, bone health or general sense of well-being, make sure to speak with your doctor today for an evaluation. The longer you wait, the more bone you may be losing.


Dr. William Duke is a thyroid and parathyroid surgeon and the director of thyroid and parathyroid surgery at MultiCare Health System, a healthcare organization with hospitals, clinics and services in the Puget Sound region and eastern Washington.