Diagnosis

To determine if you have calciphylaxis, your doctor will review your medical history, assess your symptoms and do a physical exam. Tests may include:

  • Skin biopsy. To diagnose calciphylaxis, your doctor may remove a small tissue sample from an area of affected skin for analysis.
  • Blood tests. Blood samples measure a variety of substances in your blood — calcium, phosphorus, parathyroid hormone, abnormalities in blood-clotting factors, aluminum, urea nitrogen, creatinine and albumin, among others — to help your doctor assess your kidney and liver function.
  • Imaging studies. X-rays may show branch-like calcium deposits in the blood vessels (vascular calcifications) that are common in calciphylaxis and in other advanced kidney diseases.

Read more about the blood urea nitrogen (BUN test), creatinine test and liver function tests.

Treatment

Multiple interventions are used to treat calciphylaxis, including:

Restoring oxygen and blood flow to the skin

Medication that helps keep your blood from clotting (anticoagulation medication) such as apixaban (Eliquis) will likely be prescribed to restore blood flow to affected tissues.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy — if available — can help to increase oxygen delivery to the affected parts of the body. Occasionally, your doctor may use low-dose tissue plasminogen activator (TPA) to dissolve blood clots in the tiny blood vessels of the skin.

Decreasing calcium deposits

  • Dialysis. Your doctor may change your dialysis prescription if you're on kidney dialysis, including the medications used in and the frequency of your dialysis.
  • Changing medications. Your doctor will evaluate your current medications and eliminate potential triggers for calciphylaxis, such as warfarin, corticosteroids or iron, and may modify the amount (dose) of your calcium or vitamin D supplements.
  • Taking medications. A medication called sodium thiosulfate can decrease calcium buildup in the arterioles. It's given intravenously three times a week, usually during dialysis. Your doctor may also recommend a medication called cinacalcet (Sensipar), which can help control parathyroid hormone (PTH). Other medications may be used to improve the balance of calcium and phosphorus.
  • Surgery. If an overactive parathyroid gland (hyperparathyroidism) contributes to abnormal calcium metabolism by producing too much PTH, surgery to remove all or part of the parathyroid glands may be recommended.

Applying intensive wound treatment

For sores to heal, some of the tissue damaged by calciphylaxis may need to be surgically removed (debridement). In some cases, tissue can be removed using other methods, such as wet dressings. Antibiotic treatment is part of treating and preventing wound infection.

You may be offered medication for managing pain due to calciphylaxis or during wound care.

Preparing for your appointment

You may start by seeing your primary care provider. Or, you may be referred to a specialist in skin disorders (dermatologist) or kidney disease (nephrologist).

Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.

What you can do

When you make the appointment, ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as fasting before having a specific test. It's also a good idea to bring a family member or friend with you because it can be difficult to remember all of the information from your appointment.

It's also helpful to make a list of:

  • Your symptoms, including any that seem unrelated to the reason for your appointment
  • Key personal information, including major stresses, recent life changes and family medical history
  • All medications, vitamins or other supplements you take, including the doses
  • Questions to ask your doctor

For calciphylaxis, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:

  • What's likely causing my symptoms?
  • Are there other possible causes for my symptoms?
  • What tests do I need?
  • Is my condition likely temporary or long lasting?
  • What treatment do you recommend?
  • I have other health conditions. How can I best manage these conditions together?
  • Are there any dietary restrictions I need to follow?
  • What's my prognosis?
  • Are there brochures or other printed material I can have? What websites do you recommend?

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor is likely to ask you several questions, such as:

  • When did your symptoms begin?
  • Have your symptoms been continuous or do they come and go?
  • How severe are your symptoms?
  • Does anything seem to improve your symptoms?
  • What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?

Calciphylaxis care at Mayo Clinic

June 08, 2018
References
  1. AskMayoExpert. Calciphylaxis. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2018.
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  3. Nigwekar SU, et al. Calciphylaxis: Risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment. American Journal of Kidney Disease. 2015;66:133.
  4. Chen TY, et al. Histopathology of calciphylaxis: Cohort study with clinical correlations. American Journal of Dermatopathology. 2017;39:795.
  5. King BJ, et al. Direct oral anticoagulant medications in calciphylaxis. International Journal of Dermatology. 2017;56:1065.
  6. Riemer CA, et al. Underreported use of palliative care and patient-reported outcome measures to address reduced quality of life in patients with calciphylaxis: A systematic review. British Journal of Dermatology. 2017;177:1510.
  7. El-Azhary RA, et al. Calciphylaxis: A disease of pannicular thrombosis. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2016;91:1395.
  8. McCarthy JT, et al. Survival, risk factors, and effect of treatment in 101 patients with calciphylaxis. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2016;91:1384.
  9. Ghosh T, et al. Early clinical presentations and progression of calciphylaxis. International Journal of Dermatology 2017;56:856.
  10. Warner KJ. Allscripts EPSi. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 9, 2018.
  11. El-Azhary RA, et al. Retrospective analysis of tissue plasminogen activator as an adjuvant treatment for calciphylaxis. JAMA Dermatology. 2013;149:63.
  12. El-Azhary RA (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. May 19, 2018.