Calcification: Calcium Deposits, Where They Form, How to Prevent Them
In older adults, it is common for some calcium to collect in areas throughout the body, resulting in calcification.
This article explains the types of calcification and their causes, diagnosis, and treatment.
Calcification is a buildup of calcium in an area of your body tissue. Calcification results from the body protecting itself during injury, cell death, or rapidly dividing cells. It is a natural inflammatory response to trauma, infection, and autoimmune disorders.
Tumors, whether cancerous or noncancerous, can also result in calcification within the tumor tissue.
Calcification becomes a problem when its location, shape, or size damages tissue. For example, calcifications can harden and block blood vessels in the heart, brain, and kidney. With advancing age, both the aortic and mitral valves can thicken and develop calcification deposits. This can lead to decreased efficiency in the heart’s pumping ability.
Calcifications that are apparent on mammograms may signal the presence of breast cancer. However, they may occur with benign breast disease.
Calcification can affect nearly any tissue in the body. It can result in several conditions, some of which are harmless and some that are not. These include:
- bladder and kidney stones
- benign breast calcifications
- calcinosis cutis, which is skin calcifications
- dementia due to brain calcifications
- dental tartar, which is calcified plaque
- eye cornea calcifications
- heart valve disease
- calcific joint diseases, such as tendonitis, synovitis, and arthritis
- salivary gland stones
- systemic lupus erythematosus
- testicular calcifications
Calcification often produces no symptoms. Instead, doctors may discover calcification on X-rays, including mammograms, for example.
Sometimes, you can expect calcification, but even disease-related calcification may not cause noticeable symptoms. You may, however, feel the effects of the underlying disorder or process that results in calcification. These symptoms will depend on the affected organ system and the particular disorder.
Untreated mineral metabolism disorder, which is when your body is unable to use calcium, can lead to calcification.
Possible symptoms of calcification in different areas of the body include:
- bone pain
- bone spurs, which can occasionally be visible as lumps under your skin
- breast lump or mass
- eye dryness, itchiness or pain, or impaired vision
- affected growth
- increased bone fractures
- muscle cramps or weakness
- some bone structure differences, such as leg bowing or spine curvature
- progressive weakness
- tartar on your teeth
Calcifications can be part of a healing response or cell death, called dystrophic calcification. Cells release calcium when they experience damage.
It can also be due to infection, inflammation, tumors, and injury, including previous surgery. Severely elevated levels of blood calcium, or hypercalcemia, can also cause it. In this case, calcifications occur in the blood vessels or tissues surrounding them.
Calcifications can occur in arteries with hardening of the arteries, in benign and malignant breast processes, at sites of bone or cartilage injury, and sometimes within cancers.
Several factors increase the risk of developing calcification. Not all people with risk factors will get calcification.
Risk factors for calcification include:
- autoimmune disorders
- genetic history of a calcium metabolism disorder
- internal tissue injuries that cause inflammatory reactions
Calcification is generally not treatable or reversible yet. However, disorders that are complications of or associated with calcification are often very treatable. Treatments vary depending on the disorder itself.
It is not always possible to prevent calcification because it is a natural body process. You cannot prevent calcifications such as those in the breast. Only in rare cases of metabolic disturbance, does calcium intake affect calcification and make it preventable.
There are preventive measures you can take for conditions related to calcification, such as atherosclerosis. Prevention will vary with the underlying disorder.
Complications of calcification can be serious when calcification affects the arteries or is present within cancer. The complications will vary with the underlying condition. You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan you and your doctor design specifically for you.
Here are some questions people commonly ask about calcification.
How do you get rid of calcium deposits naturally?
Calcium deposits are biological responses to cell death, infection, injury, and inflammation. There generally is no way to reverse them yet.
What foods to avoid if you have calcium deposits?
In general, calcium deposits are not related to calcium intake from foods. In fact, getting calcium from food is preferable to taking supplements. Adequate calcium intake is important to help prevent osteoporosis.
Do calcium deposits go away?
In general, calcium deposits, such as those in the breast, do not go away yet. However, certain conditions, such as calcific tendonitis, can resolve on their own.
Can vitamin D cause calcification of arteries?
Vitamin D’s main role is to help the body absorb calcium in the intestines. Without it, your body cannot get enough calcium from food or supplements.
Calcification of the arteries starts with atherosclerosis — a buildup of fatty plaques on artery walls. The calcification correlates with inflammation, not vitamin D.
Calcification is a natural process in response to cell damage or rapidly dividing cells. Infection, inflammation, and injury can cause calcium deposits. They can occur throughout different tissues in the body.
In many cases, calcium deposits are harmless and do not require treatment. However, they can be markers of disease, such as cancer and atherosclerosis. When this is the case, treatment aims at the underlying condition and not the calcium deposits themselves.