Treatments and drugs

By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you have severe hypercalcemia, you may need to be hospitalized to reduce calcium to a safe level and protect your kidneys and bones. If so, hypercalcemia treatment may include:

  • Intravenous fluids to rehydrate you
  • Loop diuretic medications (such as furosemide) to help flush excess calcium from your system and keep your kidneys functioning
  • Intravenous bisphosphonates, a group of drugs that includes pamidronate (Aredia) and zolendronate (Zometa), to prevent bone breakdown
  • Calcitonin, a hormone produced by your thyroid gland, to reduce bone reabsorption and slow bone loss
  • Glucocorticoids (corticosteroids) to help counter the effects of too much vitamin D in your blood caused by hypercalcemia
  • Hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis to remove excess waste and calcium from your blood if your kidneys are damaged and you don't respond to other treatments

Once your blood calcium returns to a safe level, treatment for hypercalcemia depends on the underlying cause.

Primary hyperparathyroidism

If your hypercalcemia is mild, you and your doctor may choose to watch and wait, monitoring your bones and kidneys over time to be sure they remain healthy. If you've already lost bone mass or developed kidney stones, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the affected parathyroid gland or glands (parathyroidectomy), which cures the condition in most cases. If you're not a good candidate for surgery, your doctor may recommend medication.

  • Surgery. Traditionally, surgery has involved a noticeable incision, exploration on both sides of the neck and general anesthesia. But a newer technique, known as minimally invasive radioguided parathyroidectomy, may offer a less-invasive option for some people. In this procedure, doctors use a radioisotope scan (sestamibi scan) to help locate the abnormal parathyroid gland before surgery. For the scan, you're given a small dose of a radioactive material that's absorbed only by the overactive parathyroid gland — not by healthy ones. During the operation, the surgeon uses the sestamibi scan results as a map to locate the abnormal gland. In some cases, a probe that detects radioactivity is used to confirm the location.

    All surgery poses some risks. A small number of people undergoing parathyroid surgery experience damage to the nerves controlling their vocal cords, and some develop chronically low calcium levels, requiring treatment with calcium and vitamin D. In addition, although usually very effective, parathyroid surgery won't cure the problem in every case.

  • Medication. The drug cinacalcet (Sensipar), which has been shown to lower calcium levels in the blood by reducing production of parathyroid hormone, may be effective for some people with hyperparathyroidism. If you've developed osteoporosis, taking medications called bisphosphonates — such as alendronate (Fosamax), risedronate (Actonel) or ibandronate (Boniva) — may preserve bone mass in your spine and hip, reducing your risk of fractures.

Cancer

The decision of whether and how to treat hypercalcemia caused by cancer depends on the overall cancer treatment goals you've established with your doctor. Relieving the signs and symptoms of hypercalcemia may involve intravenous fluids to treat dehydration and medications, such as bisphosphonates or other drugs, to stop the breakdown of bone.

Treatment of hypercalcemia may reduce pain, improve quality of life, and enable you to remain active and undergo specific cancer treatments.

May. 26, 2011