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Tetany & Calcium

by
author image Adam Cloe
Adam Cloe has been published in various scientific journals, including the "Journal of Biochemistry." He is currently a pathology resident at the University of Chicago. Cloe holds a Bachelor of Arts in biochemistry from Boston University, a M.D. from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in pathology from the University of Chicago.
Tetany & Calcium
Doctor looking at patient's chart Photo Credit XiXinXing/iStock/Getty Images

Your body needs calcium for a variety of different purposes, including the control of muscle contractions. Tetany, a muscular problem, is the result of your muscles not getting enough calcium, typically as a result of some problem that causes blood calcium levels to be too low. Tetany can usually be treated with calcium supplements.

What Is Tetany?

Tetany is a condition in which your muscles spasm and cannot relax, MDGuidelines.com explains. This uncontrollable muscle contraction makes it impossible for you to relax your muscles. Because your body typically requires one set of muscles to relax for muscles with the opposing action to contract, tetany can effectively paralyze parts of your body. Tetany can affect any muscle in the body, but it is most noticeable when it affects skeletal muscles, which are under voluntary control.

Calcium and Muscle Function

The contraction and relaxation of your muscles are controlled by calcium. When your muscle fibers contract, the head of the muscle proteins, also known as myofibrils, attach to strings known as actin filaments. For the head of the myofibril to detach from the actin filament, calcium is needed. Your muscles contain small stores of calcium that are released when a muscle needs to relax. If your calcium levels are too low, a condition known as hypocalcemia, your muscles will be unable to relax, resulting in tetany.

Hypocalcemia Causes

Tetany and hypocalcemia are generally a sign of some other problem. For example, if you do not get enough vitamin D, your blood calcium levels will drop because vitamin D is needed for the efficient absorption of calcium from your diet, the Cleveland Clinic notes. Blood calcium levels are controlled by the parathyroid gland, and an underactive parathyroid gland can also cause abnormally low blood calcium levels. Inadequate calcium intake and other disorders, such as a lack of magnesium, acute pancreatitis and some kinds of cancer, can also cause low calcium levels.

Treatment

Tetany is a serious medical problem because it indicates that your calcium levels are too low. This can affect the function of your heart and nervous system. Acute hypocalcemia is often treated with intravenous calcium in the form of calcium gluconate, Endotext.org reports. For cases of chronic hypocalcemia, eating more foods with calcium or calcium supplementation will increase blood calcium levels, although the underlying cause of the hypocalcemia and tetany will need to be addressed.

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