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Med Clin North Am. 1995 Jan;79(1):79-92.

Hypercalcemic crisis.

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Department of Internal Medicine, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan.


Hypercalcemic crisis or severe hypercalcemia represents a life-threatening emergency. The most common cause is hypercalcemia of malignancy, although granulomatous diseases, previously undetected primary hyperparathyroidism, medication-induced hypercalcemia, and a few rarer causes may result in this endocrine emergency as well. The clinical presentation and prognosis depend on the acuity of the development of hypercalcemia, the degree of hypercalcemia, and the underlying cause. Certainly, patients with malignancy who develop hypercalcemia superimposed on their already debilitated state are more likely to have a poor outcome than a previously relatively healthy patient with thiazide-induced hypercalcemia, for example. The clinical presentation of patients with hypercalcemic crisis varies depending once again on the underlying cause and degree and rapidity of the hypercalcemia. Most patients experience some constitutional symptoms, neurologic symptoms, gastrointestinal symptoms, and renal manifestations of hypercalcemia. Immediate and effective therapy directed toward the pathophysiology of hypercalcemia is essential. General measures must be implemented to reverse the dehydration, to promote urinary calcium excretion, to avoid prolonged immobilization, and to identify the underlying cause of hypercalcemia. Specific measures directed at inhibiting bone resorption, increasing renal sodium and calcium excretion, and occasionally at decreasing intestinal absorption of calcium (or more specifically blocking vitamin D metabolism) should also be implemented. Obviously the more reversible the underlying cause of hypercalcemia, the more aggressive one should be with the therapy. The literature was reviewed to compile comparative data that practitioners may use in choosing among the various pharmacologic therapies available for the treatment of acute hypercalcemia. Despite all the advances in the field, hypercalcemic crisis still carries a significant mortality risk, although with appropriate therapy with the aforementioned general and specific measures, the calcium level can effectively be lowered in most patients.

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