Calcium is an important mineral for many of the body’s functions. It is particularly important for the well functioning of muscles, the nervous system, and the heart. The majority of calcium in the body is stored in the bones. Usually, babies have normal blood calcium levels, but low calcium, or hypocalcemia, can cause significant health consequences, including convulsions.
Causes of low calcium in infants
Premature infants are at particular risk of developing seizures due to low calcium levels. According to Medline Plus, other causes of neonatal hypocalcemia include certain medications, in particular gentamicin, a commonly used antibiotic in newborn infants; diabetes in the mother; and low oxygen availability during the birthing process, leading to a condition called neonatal asphyxia. If the infant takes cow’s milk or formula with too high a content of phosphorus, hypocalcemia can also occur. Vitamin D deficiency can also cause decreased calcium levels, as this vitamin is necessary for the absorption of calcium from the gut.
The initial symptoms of low calcium in infants include jitteriness, tremors, and twitchiness. According to the Merck Manual, seizures in a neonate are difficult to recognize. They are usually focal seizures, which only affect a part of the brain. Common manifestations of focal seizures in infants include tongue thrusting, eye fluttering, tongue and lip twitching, and intermittent jerking movements of the extremities. Another cause of seizures in infants with low calcium is low oxygen content to the brain if the child is having an arrhythmia, or an abnormal heart rhythm. Hypocalcemia can slow down your heart, which can impair oxygen delivery to the brain and provoke a seizure.
Infants with hypocalcemia and seizures need prompt attention in order to control the convulsions. According to Epilepsy.com, intravenous calcium is the most effective way to raise the calcium level in the bloodstream. Care should be taken that intravenous calcium is not infused too quickly, as this can cause cardiac arrest. Intravenous magnesium may also be necessary, as low magnesium levels can prevent effective correction of calcium levels.
It is important not to confuse seizures in a neonate with tetany. Tetany is a painful, sustained spasm of the hands and feet that can mimic seizure activity. Decreased calcium levels can also cause tetany. Tetany can extend to the face, and cause twitching and spasms of the throat. Untreated, these spasms can lead to severe breathing difficulty and can be fatal.