Has your doctor told you that you will need to get a calcium blood test? All the questions you should have did not come to you during the appointment and now you are not sure what it means. Or you may have heard a loved one needs a calcium blood test and you have no idea what it means. You want to be prepared for the appointment, even if it is for someone else so you can offer the support they need.
Do not panic any longer. A calcium blood test is standard. Here is everything you need to know about the test, what will happen, and what it is for. This article also goes into the potential results and what they can mean for your health.
What Exactly Is a Calcium Blood Test For?
The test will help to screen for many conditions and health problems. It will often be part of a routine metabolic panel, which helps the doctor decide if there is a problem with the way any of your organs work. The test helps to diagnose conditions specifically with the parathyroid, thyroid gland, bones, or the kidneys. It can also help to decide problems with the nerves.
Doctors usually order it when there is been a significant decrease or increase in calcium levels in the body. It can also be ordered if someone is critically ill, making it a routine test to check for the ionized calcium levels. Those with some cancers will also have the routine test to ensure the calcium levels still are within healthy ranges and evaluate the treatments that have been used.
It is a very simple test that checks for the nutrient calcium, hence the name. Calcium is linked to the bones, but it does far more than that. It is necessary for proper heart function and for the development of nerves and muscles. The blood also needs the nutrient for clotting to avoid abnormal blood flow and blood loss.
The test will check levels of calcium in both the blood and urine. This helps to assess the levels within the body currently and the levels that are being lost in the urine.
Most of the time blood samples are drawn. A urine test can then be ordered 24-hours afterward or at a random time to check for excretion levels.
There are two specific types of tests to order. One checks the ionized or free calcium in the blood and the other checks the total calcium test. Checking total calcium can have its drawbacks, as the protein in the blood can skew results. However, it has the cheaper choice of the two and is more easily performed. Doctors tend to prefer it if they know there is a minimal risk of protein skewing results.
The ionized calcium test needs special handling of the blood. This can also take longer to perform and may need you to go to the hospital for the test. This will be ordered if the doctor is worried about results being affected or it is the ionized calcium that is specifically causing a problem. It can also be ordered if you are already in a hospital setting, such as if you are critically ill or getting cancer treatment.
How Doctors Will Use Your Calcium Blood Test
Doctors need the calcium blood test to check for various health conditions. Considering how important calcium is, the blood test helps doctors diagnose and check problems with the teeth, bones, heart, kidneys, and nerves. The tests can also help to manage thyroid and parathyroid conditions. One of the most common thyroid conditions diagnosed with the test is the overactive thyroid.
Often, doctors will use a comprehensive metabolic panel at the same time as the calcium blood test. The tests together will help to give an overall look at the body’s health and helps doctors diagnose and check conditions more effectively and thoroughly. In other cases, the basic metabolic panel is ordered. This is a shorter test that checks for fewer nutrients and issues.
Doctors will look at the total amount of calcium in the body and be lost in the urine. From this, doctors can decide if a person has an underlying health problem. If there is an issue, further tests are usually ordered to measure the exact amount of ionized calcium and other nutrients within the body. These further tests help to find the underlying problem.
One of the tests will be to check for the levels of vitamin D. If you do not get enough vitamin D, your body finds it harder to absorb calcium. The calcium will crystallize, so even if you get enough your body does not get the chance to use it. This can make it look like there is a calcium problem, but it could be the absorption rate that is an issue and the change in vitamin D can help manage that.
More importantly, doctors will also use the test to decide how much free and bound calcium you have. Your doctor will want to know the amount of ionized calcium, which is the most effective type. Those who are critically ill or have blood transfusions or IV fluids tend to have lower levels of ionized calcium. This means their body is not able to use it effectively.
When the ionized calcium levels fluctuate, the heart rate is directly affected. It is possible for the heart to beat too rapidly or slow down too much, changing the blood pressure levels and causing the muscles to spasm. This can lead to mental disorders and cause some patients to go into comas. Critically ill patients can end up with further complications, so checking the levels is crucial.
Why Has Your Doctor Order a Calcium Blood Test?
If you are not a critically ill or cancer patient, you may be worried about the ordering of the test. Do not worry, as there are many reasons your doctor will order it. If you show signs of kidney stones and some heart irregularities, your doctor may order the calcium blood test as part of a standard choice of tests. It will usually be part of the basic or comprehensive metabolic panel ordered, so you have had one in the past without realizing.
Some doctors will order the calcium blood tests as part of general health screening. Doctors recommend that you visit annually to make sure your health is in top shape. It is like a service for a car. Doctors can help fix issues when the earlier signs are around rather than fix the more complication problems. Seeing calcium abnormalities in earlier stages can help get more effective treatment.
Not everyone will show warning signs of certain conditions. A doctor will use the blood test to see if there are non-visible signs. Calcium levels can drop slowly, making it harder to spot problems. This can be useful in diagnosing kidney disease early, understanding the reasons for increased urine frequency, thirst, and fatigue, and finding the underlying cause of muscle cramping and tingling sensations in the extremities.
Those who got to the doctor with sharp pains in the side or back will go through the urine test as well as the blood test. This is because the kidney function is affected. The testing does not just decide the early signs of kidney disorders but also shows the chances of kidney stones forming.
If you do have some cancers, your doctor will order a calcium blood test routinely. This is the case for breast, kidney, neck, head, and lung cancer. It is also a common choice for those with multiple myeloma. Those who have been diagnosed with kidney disease or have had a kidney transplant in the past will also be checked. Managing the calcium levels is essential to help make treatments effective and avoid further complications.
Newborns can also be checked for a few days. This is common in premature babies or those that have a low birth weight. Monitoring is routine and to make sure the body is developing as expected. Most problems with calcium occur because the parathyroid gland did not get chance to develop properly. Symptoms are not always clear in newborns, so monitoring is important.
Most of the time, the condition will repair itself. The parathyroid gland eventually develops and can manage the calcium levels better. In some cases, a calcium supplement is needed in the short term or in the long term. This can be done through an injection or orally.
Understanding the Calcium Test Results
The amount of calcium in the blood does not tell a doctor the amount of calcium in the bones. What it shows is the amount that is currently circulating in the blood, available for use. The tests can tell a doctor the amount of calcium that is absorbed into the body and later used. The urine element can show the amount that is excreted.
Doctors get an idea of the way glands are working and the number of other nutrients within the body, especially vitamin D. It is possible for doctors to find reasons for calcium regulation being disrupted, such as a disease or health condition. Doctors do not just know there is a problem but can also find out how severe the issue is and help with treatment.
Routine tests will help doctors decide if there is still an issue. They know if medication is working or whether the medication is causing another problem.
You will get three main results: normal calcium, high total calcium, and low total calcium.
This means that the ionized or total (depending on the exact test ordered) is considered normal. Doctors want this result, as it means the body is absorbing and using enough. Some calcium is excreted, which is perfectly normal and expected.
High total calcium:
Referred to as hypercalcemia, this means that the amount of calcium in the body is too high. This could be due to hyperparathyroidism, which is when the parathyroid gland functions at a high rate. The most common reason is due to a tumor on the gland; a tumor that is usually benign. The symptoms of this condition often go unnoticed for years because the symptoms are often mild.
Hyperthyroidism can also cause elevated levels. This is when the thyroid gland overproduces and can cause many other symptoms.
Cancer can also lead to elevated levels of calcium in the body, especially when cancer has spread to the bones. The bones start to release the calcium into the body, leading to higher than expected levels.
Other problems include taking too much vitamin D, having a kidney transplant, suffering from tuberculosis, and having HIV or AIDs.
Low total calcium:
Referred to as hypo calcium, this is when the total amount of calcium in the body is too low. This is often due to low blood protein levels. Albumin is the protein that causes most of the problem, which can show issues with the liver.
However, low calcium levels are also a sign of a poor diet or lifestyle choices. The body is not able to absorb enough calcium from food, whether due to not getting enough or because of illnesses or alcoholism that affect the body’s ability to absorb.
Those who have acute conditions also tend to have low calcium levels, as the albumin levels are low. Doctors will usually see ionized calcium levels normal.
Hypoparathyroidism is a condition that can lead to hypocalcemia. This can be due to a tumor and causes the parathyroid gland not to act properly, not releasing enough hormones. Problems with your vitamin D intake can also cause low calcium levels, as the body is not able to absorb as much calcium as it should.
Medical conditions like pancreatitis and renal failure have also been linked to low levels of calcium. You can also suffer from it if you have magnesium deficiency or too much phosphorus in the diet.
The urine calcium levels can either be low or high. When low, it is a sign that the body is not getting enough. If the calcium levels are high, it suggests that there are calcium stones forming within the kidneys.
Further Tests May Be Needed
Because the tests only show the amount of calcium in the blood, further tests may be needed. This will depend on the results and the problems your doctor believes you are suffering from. Most of the time, other blood tests or further scans may be needed to decide thyroid function, tumors or spread of cancer.
In some cases, a Dexa scan is needed. This is an X-ray that checks the bone density and helps decide the amount of calcium is in the bones. It can help to watch for signs of osteoporosis and other brittle bone disorders.
Calcium Blood Tests in Conclusion
There is no need to prepare in a distinct way for the calcium blood test. This is a standard and routine test that needs no fasting or drinking any special sugary drink. Your doctor will just take your blood and order a range of tests at the same time. In some cases, you may need to give a urine sample. This will just depend on the exact reason for the calcium blood tests.
Most of the time, you will barely realize your doctor is doing a calcium blood test. This is especially if you are a critically ill or cancer patient, who is used to getting bloods drawn weekly!