Hypercalcemia medical therapy

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief:


Medical Therapy


The goal of therapy is to treat the hypercalcemia first and subsequently effort is directed to treat the underlying cause.[1]

Initial Therapy: Fluids and Diuretics

  • Hydration, increasing salt intake, and forced diuresis[2]
    • Hydration is needed because many patients are dehydrated due to vomiting or renal defects in concentrating urine.
    • Increased salt intake also can increase body fluid volume as well as increasing urine sodium excretion, which further increases urinary calcium excretion (In other words, calcium and sodium (salt) are handled in a similar way by the kidney. Anything that causes increased sodium (salt) excretion by the kidney will, en passant, cause increased calcium excretion by the kidney)
    • After rehydration, a loop diuretic such as furosemide can be given to permit continued large volume intravenous salt and water replacement while minimizing the risk of blood volume overload and thence pulmonary edema. In addition, loop diuretics tend to depress renal calcium reabsorption thereby helping to lower blood calcium levels.
    • Can usually decrease serum calcium by 1-3 mg/dL within 24 h.
    • Caution must be taken to prevent potassium or magnesium depletion.

Additional Therapy: Bisphosphonates and Calcitonin

  • Bisphosphonates are pyrophosphate analogues with high affinity for bone, especially areas of high bone-turnover.
    • They are taken up by osteoclasts and inhibit osteoclastic bone resorption
    • Current available drugs include (in order of potency): (1st gen) etidronate, (2nd gen) tiludronate, IV pamidronate, alendronate, risedronate, and (3rd gen) zolendronate
    • All patients with cancer-associated hypercalcemia should receive treatment with bisphosphonates since the 'first line' therapy (above) cannot be continued indefinitely nor is it without risk. Further, even if the 'first line' therapy has been effective, it is a virtual certainty that the hypercalcemia will recur in the patient with hypercalcemia of malignancy. Use of bisphoponates in such circumstances, then, becomes both therapeutic and preventative.
    • Patients in renal failure and hypercalcemia should have a risk-benefit analysis before being given bisphosphonates, since they are relatively contraindicated in renal failure.
  • Calcitonin blocks bone resorption and also increases urinary calcium excretion by inhibiting renal calcium reabsorption.
    • Usually used in life-threatening hypercalcemia along with rehydration, diuresis, and bisphosphonates.
    • Helps prevent recurrence of hypercalcemia.
    • Dose is 4 Units per kg via subcutaneous or intramuscular route every 12 hours, usually not continued indefinitely.

Other Therapies

  • Other thearapies are rarely used, or used in special circumstances.

Contraindicated medications

Hypercalcemia is considered an absolute contraindication to the use of the following medications:


  1. Bilezikian JP (1992). "Management of acute hypercalcemia". N Engl J Med. 326 (18): 1196–203. doi:10.1056/NEJM199204303261806. PMID 1532633.
  2. Hosking DJ, Cowley A, Bucknall CA (1981). "Rehydration in the treatment of severe hypercalcaemia". Q J Med. 50 (200): 473–81. PMID 7342172.

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