Calcification is an increasing accumulation of calcium in a body tissue. Most of the calcium absorbed by the body ends up in the bone and teeth, an excess of calcium dissolves in the blood and is excreted in the urine.
However, a certain amount of calcium accumulates in the body’s tissues. This calcium accumulation causes hardening of the tissue.
Calcification can be part of a natural inflammatory response to infections, trauma, or autoimmune diseases. In addition, tumors (cancerous or non-cancerous) can form calcifications inside the tumor tissue.
Classification of calcifications
- Dystrophic calcification is an accumulation of calcium salts in necrotic (dead) or degenerated tissues, but this is not dependent on increased calcium in the blood (hypercalcemia). An example of this is the calcification of scars.
- Metastatic calcifications are caused by an accumulation of calcium salts in living and normal tissues. In this case, there is an increased density of calcium in the blood, which is caused by metabolic changes such as Addison’s disease, a sarcoma (bone tumor), hyperparathyroidism, etc.
- Heterotopic calcifications occur where they are not normally visible.
Calcification becomes a problem when its location, shape or size interferes with the functioning of organs, for example when the blood vessels in the brain, heart or kidneys harden or become blocked.
In mammography, they are conspicuous and may indicate the presence of a breast tumor. However, they can also occur in the case of a benign disease in the breast (dysplastic calcifications).
Often you can also see calcifications on the liver, but usually this does not cause any symptoms.
What causes calcification?
Calcifications can be caused by inflammation or by an increased level of calcium in the blood. This disorder is called
hypercalcemia: calcium accumulation can be the result of a healing process after a skeletal muscle injury.
Calcifications are often found along the tendons and especially in areas where they attach to the bone. They are also found in arteriosclerosis (hardening) in the arteries, in benign and malignant neoplasms of the breast, in bone fractures and sometimes inside a tumor.
What are the risk factors for abnormal calcification?
Various factors increase the risk of developing abnormal calcification. However, not all people with these factors have calcification.
Risk factors for calcification are:
- Joint overload due to work or sports
- Autoimmune diseases
- Familial diseases of calcium metabolism
- Internal tissue damage that causes inflammatory responses
What are the symptoms of calcification?
Calcification often does not cause any symptoms, but is detected by chance through an X-ray, including mammography.
Some calcification in the body is normal.
One can feel the effect of an underlying disease or process that leads to calcification.
These symptoms depend on the affected organ and disease.
Some of the most common symptoms associated with calcification include bony spurs, calluses, and tartar buildup.
If left untreated, the disturbances in calcium metabolism can lead to calcification in the tissues.
Signs and symptoms of calcifications
One can observe the symptoms of calcification even if they are not related to a disorder of mineral metabolism.
Sometimes some of these symptoms can be severe:
- Bone pain
- Bone spurs
- Mass in the chest
- Growth retardation
- Broken bones
- Muscle weakness or cramps
- Deformities such as crooked legs or humps
- Progressive weakness
- Tartar formation
Symptoms that could
indicate a serious illness In some cases, calcification can be a sign of a serious condition that should be clarified immediately in the emergency room.
One should go to a hospital immediately if complications are caused by calcification such as kidney stones, Paget’s disease (disease of bone metabolism), epiphyseal tumors or severe hypercalcemia (increased calcium in the blood) along with any of the following symptoms:
- Muscle contractures, spasms, or convulsions
- Nausea with and without vomiting
- Severe bone pain
- Severe headache
- Sudden abdominal pain, lumbar pain, or pelvic pain
Treatment of calcifications
Tendon calcifications form on entheses, i.e. at the level of the tendon insertion. The most common are those of the elbow, knee (on the quadriceps tendon) and shoulder.
The calcifications of the shoulder, arm, hip or thigh bone can be treated by physiotherapy or surgery.
Natural remedies are shock waves that act on tendons and blood circulation. With it, the pain can pass even if the calcification persists.
Of course, the type of treatment depends on the type of metabolic disorder.
What are possible complications of calcification?
Complications of calcification can be serious, especially if the calcification is located in arteries or inside a cancerous tumor.
The risk of serious complications can be reduced to a minimum by orthopedic treatment.
Complications of calcifications include:
- Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
- Peripheral arterial disease
- Spread of the tumor
Calcifications in the chest
The calcifications consist of many small pieces of calcium that can occur inside the soft tissue of the breast.
Breast calcifications are not always a sign of breast cancer, but can also be an indication of a precancerous condition.
In mammography, they appear as white dots in the mammary gland.
If the mammography shows microcalcifications (calcifications smaller than 1 cm), the doctor or radiologist may order an echography or biopsy.
If questionable microcalcifications occur, a comparative mammogram may be required after six months to track further development.
These control measures are important to get the best information about your health.
80% of microcalcifications are benign.
Some causes of benign calcification:
- an old injury in the breast tissue
- Calcium deposit in an enlarged milk duct
- Lime in the fluid of a benign cyst in the breast
- Radiation therapy for breast cancer
- Vascular calcification in the arteries of the chest
- Calcification of a fibroadenoma (benign neoplasm)
Calcifications of vessels and aorta
Atherosclerosis (or hardening of the arteries) is a disease characterized by the formation of plaques on the inner walls of these vessels.
The plaques consist of fat, lime and other substances.
Calcifications often form on the heart valve between the heart and the aorta.
In the first phases, the functionality of the heart valve itself is not impaired, but it often causes an audible heart murmur.
If the parietal calcification of the aorta is advanced, it can lead to chest pain or even a heart attack.
Calcification can also occur in other areas of the heart, such as the arteries.
When calcification of vessels, the arterial plaques are covered by deposits of calcium, which form an outer fragile layer on the plaques.
Laminar calcifications are located on the outside of the aortic wall, so they are less dangerous.
Older people are more likely to be affected.
Calcifications of the prostate gland
Prostate calcifications are common, especially after the age of 50.
They are very rarely found in children and rarely under the age of 40.
The number and size increase with age.
Prostate calcification is often noticed by chance, as it is asymptomatic. However, it can also cause symptoms such as dysuria (bladder emptying disorders), infection, hematuria (blood in the urine) and narrowing or pain in the pelvis/perineal area.
In some cases, the calcium deposits are excreted through the urethra.
Prostate calcifications can occur primarily (idiopathically) or secondarily in the case of:
- Diabetes mellitus
- Infections – such as tuberculosis (causes calcification of the lymph nodes) or bacterial prostatitis
- Benign prostatic hypertrophy – calcifications persist in 10%
- Prostate tumor
- Postoperatively after the placement of a urethral stent
Calcifications of the testicles
Calcifications of the epididymis can be part of benign formations, but they can also indicate cancer. One should therefore investigate more thoroughly.
Calcifications of the lungs
With a lung tumor, calcifications can sometimes be observed. In most cases, benign formations are identified or there are sequelae of pulmonary tuberculosis.