What Does It Mean When Your Calcium Levels Are High?

Calcium plays a vital role in muscle function, bone strength, and heart health. This mineral also helps your blood clot and supports the proper functioning of certain enzymes. On top of that, it's one of the most important electrolytes in your body, explains the MSD Manual. What you may know is that having too much calcium in the blood can affect your heart, brain, kidneys, bones, and other tissues.

Most adults need approximately 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). However, your body can only absorb about 15% of the calcium from food if you consume more than 2,000 milligrams of this mineral daily. Aging, menopause, certain medications, and other factors can affect calcium absorption, too. For example, corticosteroids and anti-seizure drugs can lower blood calcium levels, notes the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Estrogens and some diuretics, on the other hand, may lead to hypercalcemia, or excess calcium in the bloodstream.

Too much calcium can cause poor kidney function, cardiovascular problems, digestive distress, and unintentional weight loss, warns the NIH. Over time, hypercalcemia could put you at risk for heart disease and prostate cancer.

But what does it mean when your calcium levels are higher than normal? Most importantly, what can you do about it? Let's find out.

High calcium levels may indicate an underlying condition

Normal blood calcium levels are around 8.6 to 10.3 milligrams per deciliter, according to UCLA Health. The amount of calcium in your body is regulated by the parathyroid glands, and, therefore, it's possible to develop hypercalcemia due to an underlying condition affecting these glands. A common cause is hyperparathyroidism, a disorder that causes the parathyroid glands to overproduce hormones.

In some cases, high calcium levels may be a sign of cancer, tuberculosis, or genetic disorders, explains the Mayo Clinic. Severe dehydration and certain drugs or supplements, such as calcium pills, can lead to hypercalcemia, too. The risk is also higher among people confined to bed for long periods. Note that dietary calcium is unlikely to cause this problem, says the European Food Information Council. Most foods are relatively low in calcium, and only a small amount gets absorbed into the body. Calcium intakes of up to 2,500 milligrams per day are considered safe. 

Mild hypercalcemia doesn't usually require treatment, notes the Mayo Clinic. However, if you take calcium or vitamin D supplements, you may need to stop using them for a while. Severe hypercalcemia may be treated with corticosteroids, hormonal medications, or drugs targeting the parathyroid glands. Your doctor might also prescribe diuretics or other medicines, depending on the cause of your condition. For example, parathyroid tumors may require surgery, chemotherapy, or treatment with calcium-lowering agents, but this condition is very rare, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.