Although both high and low calcium levels in the blood can cause muscle symptoms, low levels are typically the culprit behind muscle cramping. Low serum calcium levels, medically termed hypocalcemia, or high calcium levels, called hypercalcemia, most often are related to causes other than dietary intake. Ingesting large amounts of calcium in supplement form can raise your calcium levels, but disease processes more often cause abnormal calcium levels.
Muscle Symptoms and Calcium
Around 99 percent of the calcium in the body stays in the bones and teeth, but the other 1 percent stays in the blood and cells, where it affects muscle contraction and nerve transmission, the Office of Dietary Supplements explains. High calcium levels can cause muscle twitching and weakness, while low calcium levels can prompt spontaneous muscle cramping that can lead to severe spasms, called tetany.
Causes of Abnormal Calcium Levels
Problems with the parathyroid glands, located behind the thyroid, can cause calcium levels to rise or fall. Between 1 and 2 percent of people develop hypoparathyroidism, which leads to hypocalcemia, after complete thyroid removal, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Some cancers, such as lung cancer, breast cancer and multiple myeloma, can cause high calcium levels. On the other hand, magnesium imbalances, vitamin D deficiency, infection, chemotherapy and pancreatitis can cause low calcium levels.
Treatment for high calcium levels depends on the cause, but may include hospitalization for intravenous fluids, diuretics, dialysis or drugs to wash out extra calcium or decrease bone breakdown. Low calcium levels require calcium supplementation either orally or intravenously, depending on the severity of the disease.
Both high and low calcium levels can cause muscle and nerve symptoms that may appear somewhat similar, although low calcium is more likely to cause severe muscle cramping. Diagnosing abnormal calcium levels requires blood tests; determining the cause of abnormal levels requires further testing.