Most of us have become health conscious and hence, we tend to pick healthy diet choices and go for regular health screenings. Although blood glucose test and thyroid test form an integral part of your regular health checkups, nowadays experts are also recommending to undergo a calcium test. Due to lack of diet rich in calcium and regular exercise, we are at higher risk of calcium deficiency. This may be further aggravated due to hectic schedules and long working hours. Read to know why one should get calcium test done and how to know if your calcium levels in the blood are abnormal.
Are you deficient in calcium? Signs to watch out for!
Due to unhealthy eating habits, lack of physical activity and erratic work schedule, we often tend to ignore even the minor changes in the body, which may be indication of underlying nutritional deficiency. The symptoms such as breaking of nails easily, rough hairs, dry and scaly skin or muscle cramps might be a sign of calcium deficiency. In severe cases, it can also lead to forgetfulness, confusion, feeling sad, and hallucinations (seeing, hearing, smelling or feeling things that don’t exist).
Reasons for low calcium levels
Low levels of calcium in the blood is known as hypocalcemia which can be caused due to:
-Intake of diet deficient in calcium
-Hypoparathyroidism (a condition in which the parathyroid gland becomes underactive)
-Pancreatitis (Inflammation of the pancreas)
-Certain medicines such as corticosteroids, anticonvulsants, and rifampicin
-Liver disease causing low albumin levels which might affect calcium levels
Why Do You Need A Calcium Test?
A calcium test is done to measure the amount of calcium present in your blood. Calcium is one of the important minerals which is required to maintain healthy bones and teeth. Lack of calcium in the blood can predispose you to fractures and osteoporosis (bones become weak and brittle). Calcium is also needed for the proper functioning of the muscles, nerves, and the heart. So if your doctor suspects that you are deficient in calcium or if you show any symptoms of calcium deficiency, you might be asked to get a calcium blood test done to know the levels of calcium in the blood.
What to do if you have low calcium levels
Based on your calcium blood test reports, your doctor may advise changes in your diet. For example, if your report shows low calcium levels, you might be asked to increase your intake of foods rich in calcium. The recommended dietary allowance of calcium for infants (less than one year of age) is 500 mg, for children (1-9 years of age) and men is 600 mg, for adolescents (10 – 17 years of age) is 800 mg while for women it is 1200 mg. Additional supplementation may be required for a severe deficiency. Dietary sources include dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese, and foods which have added calcium like breakfast cereals, soymilk, bread, and bottled water. In cases of severe calcium deficiency, calcium supplements might be prescribed. Remember that calcium supplements should always be taken as per your doctor’s advice.
Can high levels of calcium be harmful? Readout further to know the details
A calcium blood test can also help you to determine high calcium levels in the blood which is known as hypercalcemia. This condition is characterized by symptoms such as feeling tired or weak, lack of appetite, feeling nauseated or vomiting, pain in the abdomen, frequent urination, constipation, excessive thirst, and pain in the bones.
There are certain conditions that cause high calcium levels in blood such as
-Primary hyperparathyroidism (overactive parathyroid gland)
-Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland)
-Inflammatory diseases such as sarcoidosis
-Certain medicines such as lithium and thiazide diuretics
-An overdose of calcium or vitamin D supplements
What to do if you have high calcium levels
If you are detected with high calcium levels, the doctor will advise you diet low in calcium. You will be advised to take a lot of fluids to flush out extra calcium from the body. You might be advised certain drugs to lower calcium levels such as steroids, calcitonin or bisphosphonates. After some time, the doctor may call you for the follow-up to check if your calcium levels have come back to normal.
Hence, getting a calcium test done helps you to screen for any conditions related to bones, heart, nerves, kidney, and teeth. As you become old, the bones become weak and are more prone to fractures and osteoporosis. Therefore, it is important to maintain adequate calcium levels to maintain bone strength and density. As the excess of calcium is also harmful, you should get your calcium blood test done to monitor its levels regularly.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)