Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body; it is also the most abundantly consumed–through food (both natural and fortified) and dietary supplements. It is even present in certain medicines like antacids. We are constantly finding ways to supplement our bodies with calcium lest we suffer from calcium deficiency. This is because calcium plays significant roles in the daily functioning of the body–from cardiovascular activities to neuromuscular functions. It is no surprise then that an average health-conscious person obsesses over this mineral. Relax. Because just one percent of total body calcium can take care of all these functions.1
What Is Hypocalcemia?
For an adult, male or female, the daily recommended dietary allowance of calcium is 1000 mg.2 An insufficient intake of calcium or inadequate absorption of it in the body can lead to a deficiency of calcium in the blood. If the deficiency gets severe, it is termed hypocalcemia.3 The human body can fail to absorb calcium fully due to various reasons including a deficiency in vitamin D and faulty functioning of the thyroid and parathyroid glands.
Having said that, how does one know if the body is deficient in calcium or has hypocalcemia? While mild calcium deficiency may not manifest as significant symptoms, hypocalcemia simply cannot dodge your attention. The symptoms can be varied–from neuromuscular to dermatological and even cardiac symptoms.
Muscle Tingling, Spasm
Neuromuscular irritability is the hallmark of acute hypocalcemia. It could start with mild tingling in the fingertips, toes, and lips. Muscle spasms are common, too and can get very painful in acute cases. It can progress to carpal spasm or tetany. Tetany is a condition that starts with tingling at specific locations in the body that eventually gets generalized. Chvostek’s sign where the facial muscles get twitched in response to the tapping over facial nerves is a classic sign of hypocalcemia.4 Muscle spasm could get so acute that the hands begin to assume a typical posture in which fingers extend, the wrists flex and the thumb abducts, also called Trousseau’s sign.5
Depression, Hallucination, Confusion
A host of neurological symptoms like recurrent seizures, changes in personality, psychosis, depression, and irritability could be noticed in the case of hypocalcemia.6 Acute deficiency of serum calcium can lead to calcification in various parts of the brain including basal ganglia and cerebral cortex which can result in these neurological symptoms.7
Dry, Rough Skin
Hypocalcemia can present as symptoms on the skin, hair, and nails. While skin gets dry, rough, keratotic, and puffy in hypocalcemia, it could also manifest as skin conditions like psoriasis or eczema. Nails get ridged, discolored, split and lusterless and hair becomes brittle and thin.8
Poor Heart And Eye Function
Did you know a lack of serum calcium can lead to a host of issues in the eyes including poor vision and cataract? Well, there is clinical evidence that shows hypocalcemia from parathyroid hormone abnormalities can result in poor vision.9 Not just that. It can also result in conditions like cataract and optic disc edema.10
Hypocalcemia can also affect the heart. It could lead to heart conditions like cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure. This, however, is often reversible with calcium supplementation.11
Hypocalcemia In Newborns
Newborn babies and infants too, could be affected by hypocalcemia. While early hypocalcemia could develop in the first two to three days of birth, late hypocalcemia could develop after a few weeks, mostly after feeding formula, some of which have high phosphate content. The symptoms of hypocalcemia in infants include muscle twitching, irritability, tremors, poor feeding, lethargy, seizures, and jitteriness.12
Watch out for this symptoms if you suspect you are deficient in calcium. Better still is to have enough calcium-rich food so you can avoid the condition altogether.
|↑1, ↑2||Calcium. NIH.|
|↑3||Calcium Deficiency. Encyclopaedia Britannica.|
|↑4||Mohebbi, Mohammad R., Kurt A. Rosenkrans, and Michael J. Jung. “Chvostek’s and Trousseau’s signs in a Case of Hypoparathyroidism.” Journal of clinical and diagnostic research: JCDR 7, no. 5 (2013): 970.|
|↑5||Fenichel, G. M. “Cramps, muscle stiffness, and exercise intolerance.” Clinical pediatric neurology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia: WB Saunders (1997): 205-219.|
|↑6||Schafer, Anne L., and Dolores M. Shoback. “Hypocalcemia: Diagnosis and treatment.” (2016).|
|↑7||Rizvi, Imran, Noor Alam Ansari, Md Mujahid Beg, and Dilawez Shamim. “Widespread intracranial calcification, seizures and extrapyramidal manifestations in a case of hypoparathyroidism.” North American journal of medical sciences 4, no. 8 (2012): 369.|
|↑8||Fuleihan, Ghada El-Hajj, and Nelly Rubeiz. “Dermatologic manifestations of parathyroid-related disorders.” Clinics in dermatology 24, no. 4 (2006): 281-288.|
|↑9||Vukovic, D. R., and S. M. P. Pajic. “Hypocalcemia Induced Severe Heart Insufficiency and Visual Acuity Impairment–Will Calcium Supplementation Improve Heart and Eye Function.” J Blood Lymph 4, no. 130 (2015): 2.|
|↑10||Sengupta, Sabyasachi, Ravilla D. Ravindran, Veena Kannusamy, and Varsha Tamrakar. “Bilateral simultaneous disc edema and cataract associated with Albright hereditary osteodystrophy.” Middle East African journal of ophthalmology 19, no. 1 (2012): 166.|
|↑11||Suzuki, Takaaki, Uichi Ikeda, Hideyjuki Fujikawa, Kazuyuki Shimada, and Ken Saito. “Hypocalcemic heart failure: a reversible form of heart muscle disease.” Clinical cardiology 21, no. 3 (1998): 227-228.|
|↑12||Hypocalcemia. Stanford Children’s Health|