Patients at risk of developing hypercalcemia may be the first to recognize its symptoms, such as fatigue. Measures to prevent hypercalcemia include drinking enough fluids, controlling nausea and vomiting, walking and being active, and cautious use or elimination of drugs that can contribute to the development of hypercalcemia or affect its treatment. Calcium in the diet should not be reduced or eliminated, however, because the body's absorption of calcium is reduced in patients with hypercalcemia.
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Fluids are given to treat dehydration. Medication is given to stop the breakdown of bone. The cancer causing the hypercalcemia should be treated effectively.
The severity of the hypercalcemia determines the amount of treatment necessary. Severe hypercalcemia should be treated immediately and aggressively. Less severe hypercalcemia should be treated according to the symptoms. Response to treatment is shown by the disappearance of the symptoms of hypercalcemia and a decrease in the level of calcium in the blood.
Mild hypercalcemia does not usually need to be treated aggressively. Patients with mild hypercalcemia and central nervous system symptoms are harder to treat. Younger patients are especially difficult to treat because they tolerate hypercalcemia better. Other causes of the central nervous system symptoms should be ruled out before deciding that they are caused by hypercalcemia alone.
Treatment for hypercalcemia can improve symptoms. Increased urination and thirst, central nervous system symptoms, nausea, vomiting, and constipation improve with treatment more easily than other symptoms, such as loss of appetite, and tiredness. Pain may be more easily controlled once calcium levels are normal. Effective therapy that lowers calcium usually improves symptoms, enhances the quality of life, and may allow the patient to leave the hospital.
After calcium levels return to normal, urine and blood should continue to be checked often to make sure the treatment is still working.
Giving fluids by vein and observing the patient is an accepted treatment for patients with mild hypercalcemia (but no symptoms) and who also have cancer that responds well to anticancer treatment (such as lymphoma, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, head and neck cancers, or multiple myeloma). If the patient has symptoms, or has a cancer that is expected to respond slowly to treatment, then drugs to treat the hypercalcemia should be started. Other treatments should focus on controlling nausea, vomiting, and fever, encouraging continued activity, and limiting use of drugs that cause sleepiness.
Moderate to severe hypercalcemia
Replacing fluids is the first and most important step in treating moderate or severe hypercalcemia. Replacing fluids will not restore normal calcium levels in all patients, but it is still important to do first. The patient's mental state should improve, and nausea and vomiting should decrease within the first 24 hours, but this improvement is only temporary. If cancer therapy (surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy) is not able to be started immediately, then drugs to lower the calcium levels must be used to control the hypercalcemia.