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Calcium Deficiency Disease

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Definition

Hypocalcemia, a low bood calcium level, occurs when the concentration of free calcium ions in the blood falls below 4.0 mg/dL (dL=one tenth of a liter). The normal concentration of free calcium ions in the blood serum is 4.0–6.0 mg/dL.

Symptoms

Hypocalcemia can be caused by hypoparathyroidism, by failure to produce 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, by low levels of plasma magnesium, or by failure to get adequate amounts of calcium or vitamin D in the diet. Hypoparathyroidism involves the failure of the parathyroid gland to make parathyroid hormone. Parathyroid hormone controls and maintains plasma calcium levels. The hormone exerts its effect on the kidneys, where it triggers the synthesis of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D. Thus, hypocalcemia can be independently caused by damage to the parathyroid gland or to the kidneys. 1,25-Dihydroxyvitamin D stimulates the uptake of calcium from the diet and the mobilization of calcium from the bone. Bone mobilization means the natural process by which the body dissolves part of the bone in the skeleton in order to maintain or raise the levels of plasma calcium ions.

Low plasma magnesium levels (hypomagnesia) can result in hypocalcemia. Hypomagnesemia can occur with alcoholism or with diseases characterized by an inability to properly absorb fat. Magnesium is required for parathyroid hormone to play its part in maintaining plasma calcium levels. For this reason, any disease that results in lowered plasma magnesium levels may also cause hypocalcemia.

Hypocalcimia may also result from the consumption of toxic levels of phosphate. Phosphate is a constituent of certain enema formulas. An enema is a solution that is used to cleanse the intestines via a hose inserted into the rectum. Cases of hypocalcemia have been documented where people swallowed enema formulas, or where an enema has been administered to an infant.

Symptoms of severe hypocalcemia include numbness or tingling around the mouth or in the feet and hands, as well as in muscle spasms in the face, feet, and hands. Hypocalcemia can also result in depression, memory loss, or hallucinations. Severe hypocalcemia occurs when serum free calcium is under 3 mg/dL. Chronic and moderate hypocalcemia can result in cataracts (damage to the eyes). In this case, the term "chronic" means lasting one year or longer.

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