Calcitonin is an amino acid hormone produced and released in the thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped gland that helps the body manage metabolism, muscle control, and other essential functions. Calcitonin helps regulate calcium levels in the blood — and appears to work against the parathyroid hormone (PTH).
The relationship between calcitonin and PTH is complex, but those who understand this relationship are better equipped to lower their risk of experiencing hyperparathyroidism (HPT) and other medical conditions. Now, let’s examine calcitonin function and PTH in detail and explore the relationship between the two hormones.
What Is Calcitonin?
Calcitonin is a hormone released when a person experiences hypercalcemia, a condition that causes elevated calcium levels in the blood. There are two ways in which calcitonin works.
First, calcitonin opposes osteoclasts, cells that break down bone in the body. Bones contain calcium, which gets released into the bloodstream when they are broken down by osteoclasts. Meanwhile, calcitonin prevents excess amounts of calcium from deteriorating bones to enter the bloodstream. This helps minimize the risk that a person will experience hypercalcemia due to the calcium produced during the breakdown of bone in the body.
Additionally, calcitonin function helps reduce the resorption of calcium in the kidneys. If the kidneys receive too much calcium, kidney stones may form. Thankfully, calcitonin helps lower the body’s calcium levels, thereby reducing a person’s risk of kidney stones and related kidney problems.
How much calcitonin is secreted at a given time is often determined by the amount of calcium in the blood. For instance, if calcium levels in the blood increase, calcitonin is secreted more frequently. On the other hand, if calcium levels in the blood decrease, the secretion of calcitonin dwindles.
A lack of calcitonin in the blood may increase a person’s risk of bone degradation and osteopenia, a condition that occurs when the rate in which the body reabsorbs old bone exceeds the rate in which it produces new bone. In a study of male and female patients on the impact of calcitonin deficiency on bone turnover and density, researchers found that patients with calcitonin deficiency, suppressive thyroid hormone treatment, or both were at greater risk of bone degradation and osteopenia than others. However, researchers noted that this may be due to calcitonin deficiency or thyroid hormone therapy, and additional studies may be required to understand the impact of calcitonin deficiency and thyroid hormone therapy on bone degradation and osteopenia.
What Is PTH?
PTH is a hormone produced by the parathyroid glands; there are four parathyroid glands, and together, they help regulate calcium levels in the body. PTH increases calcium in several ways; it breaks down bone, improves the body’s ability to obtain calcium from food, and increases the kidney’s ability to contain calcium.
When calcium levels in the body decline, PTH production increases. Or, if calcium levels in the body reach a normal range or get too high, the parathyroid glands stop producing PTH.
Why Are Calcitonin and Parathyroid Hormones Important?
Calcitonin and PTH help regulate the body’s calcium levels, but each functions in a different way. It is important to note that calcitonin is weaker than PTH. While HPT occurs when one or more malfunctioning parathyroid glands produce an excess amount of PTH and raise the blood calcium level, calcitonin does not play a major role in HPT.
Also, whereas calcitonin helps lower the body’s calcium levels, PTH helps increase the body’s calcium levels. But when the body has the right level of calcium, calcitonin and PTH can coexist.
Unfortunately, hypercalcemia and hypocalcemia can impact the body’s ability to maintain the proper amount of calcium. There are notable differences between these two medical conditions, but either condition can impact calcitonin and parathyroid hormone levels in the body.
What Is Hypercalcemia?
Hypercalcemia occurs when calcium levels in the blood rise above a normal level. In this instance, bones can become weaker, kidney stones can start to develop, and heart and kidney functions can suffer.
Overactive parathyroid glands are the primary cause of hypercalcemia. Parathyroid glands sometimes become overactive due to a formation of a noncancerous (benign) tumor; a benign tumor may develop on one or more parathyroid glands.
There are other possible causes of hypercalcemia as well. These include:
- Cancer: Lung and breast cancer and different cancers of the blood increase a person’s risk of hypercalcemia. Moreover, metastasis (spread of cancer) to the bones may make a person susceptible to hypercalcemia.
- Disease: Tuberculosis, sarcoidosis, and other diseases that raise vitamin D levels in the blood can stimulate the digestive tract. The result: the digestive tract absorbs more calcium, increasing the risk of hypercalcemia.
- Genetics: Hypocalciuric hypercalcemia is a rare genetic disorder that occurs due to faulty calcium receptors in the body.
- Dehydration: Severe dehydration means there is less fluid in the blood, raising the body’s calcium concentrations.
- Medication: Lithium and other medications sometimes increase the release of PTH in the body, leading to an increase in calcium.
- Supplements: Taking too much of a calcium or vitamin D supplement may result in elevated calcium levels in the blood.
Research shows that the risk of hypercalcemia is highest among women 50 years of age and older. For women or men who experience hypercalcemia, they may be prone to different complications, such as osteoporosis, kidney failure, and abnormal heart rhythm. But with proper diagnosis and treatment, hypercalcemia symptoms can be addressed before they get out of hand.
What Is Hypocalcemia?
Consider hypocalcemia the opposite of hypercalcemia; hypocalcemia is a condition that results in too little calcium in the blood. Furthermore, hypocalcemia is often difficult to diagnose, mostly because its symptoms are commonly associated with a wide range of medical conditions.
For example, a lack of calcium in the blood may contribute to muscle problems. Thus, people dealing with hypocalcemia are prone to muscle aches, cramps, and spasms — all of which are associated with myriad medical conditions.
People coping with hypocalcemia are susceptible to fatigue, nail and skin problems, osteopenia, and other medical conditions as well. In order to find out if an individual is dealing with hypocalcemia or another medical condition, a medical diagnosis is paramount.
How Are Hypercalcemia and Hypocalcemia Diagnosed?
A calcium blood test offers a viable option to help a doctor assess an individual’s calcium levels. The test allows a doctor to see if an individual has too much or too little calcium in the blood, as well as helps him or her diagnose diseases of the heart, kidneys, and other organs.
If a doctor believes a patient is dealing with an excess amount of calcium in the blood, additional tests may be performed to determine if this individual is also experiencing HPT. Common tests for HPT include localization studies, a 4 gland assessment, and intra-operative PTH testing. If a doctor discovers HPT is the root cause of hypercalcemia, he or she may recommend parathyroid gland surgery.
A minimally invasive parathyroidectomy (MIP) surgery is available, and this procedure has a high cure rate in comparison to many other surgical treatments. Of course, the success of MIP varies based on the surgeon performing the procedure and his or her expertise. By choosing a highly trained and experienced surgeon for MIP, a patient can minimize risk and improve the chances of overcoming hypercalcemia.
In terms of hypocalcemia testing, mental and physical exams may be performed in addition to a calcium blood test. A physical exam allows a doctor to assess a patient’s muscles, hair, and skin. Conversely, a mental exam helps a doctor analyze the severity of a patient’s seizures, hallucinations, or other side effects of hypocalcemia that impact a patient’s mental well-being.
Hypocalcemia is generally treated with dietary changes. Patients may receive vitamin D or magnesium supplements and should follow a doctor’s instructions for using these supplements. Some doctors may also recommend certain foods to help boost calcium levels.
How Does Dr. Larian Treat Hypercalcemia and Hypocalcemia?
Dr. Babak Larian of the CENTER for Advanced Parathyroid Surgery understands there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for hypercalcemia or hypocalcemia. Therefore, Dr. Larian performs an extensive patient evaluation, so he understands a patient’s symptoms. Dr. Larian then offers a treatment plan designed to help a patient achieve long-term symptom relief.
In some instances, Dr. Larian conducts MIP, and he dedicates significant time and resources to ensure a patient can benefit from this procedure. Dr. Larian also monitors his patient’s progress after an MIP and works diligently to help accomplish treatment goals.
If Dr. Larian finds that a patient’s symptoms are unrelated to HPT, he offers an alternative treatment recommendation. Dr. Larian wants each patient to get the necessary help to overcome symptoms. With his in-depth approach to patient care, Dr. Larian ensures that each patient is fully supported and can find the best way to manage calcitonin and PTH levels.
Schedule a Treatment Consultation with Dr. Larian Today
For those who experience symptoms of hypercalcemia or hypocalcemia, Dr. Larian is available to analyze these symptoms and explore treatment options. To schedule a treatment consultation with Dr. Larian, please contact us online or call us today at 310-461-0300.