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Hypocalcemia

What is hypocalcemia?

Hypocalcemia is a condition in which there is too little calcium in the blood. A common form of hypocalcemia in babies is called neonatal hypocalcemia. This condition may occur at different times with different causes, including the following:

  • Early hypocalcemia. This occurs in the first two to three days of life.

  • Late hypocalcemia. This develops later in the first week or weeks after birth, usually after several days of formula feedings. Some formulas have high levels of phosphate which can lower the blood calcium levels.

What causes hypocalcemia?

The causes of early hypocalcemia are unclear, while late hypocalcemia has a number of known causes, related primarily to calcium and phosphorus levels in the body as well as parathyroid hormone function. Parathyroid hormone is produced by the parathyroid glands in the neck. It helps regulate the levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood. Low parathyroid hormone levels can cause the blood calcium to be low. A number of conditions, such as DiGeorge syndrome, may cause low parathyroid hormone levels.  

Hypocalcemia is more common in premature and low birthweight babies, because their parathyroid glands are less mature. It can also occur in babies who have a difficult birth and in babies of diabetic mothers.

What are the symptoms of hypocalcemia?

Symptoms of hypocalcemia may not be obvious in newborn babies. The following are the most common symptoms of hypocalcemia. However, each baby may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Irritability

  • Muscle twitches

  • Jitteriness

  • Tremors

  • Poor feeding

  • Lethargy

  • Seizures

The symptoms of hypocalcemia may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your baby's doctor for a diagnosis.

How is hypocalcemia diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnosis of hypocalcemia is made by testing the blood for the amount of calcium.

Treatment for hypocalcemia

Hypocalcemia may get better without treatment in some cases, especially if there are no symptoms. However, specific treatment for hypocalcemia will be determined by your baby's doctor based on:

  • Your baby's gestational age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the disease

  • Your baby's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the disease

  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Supplemental calcium gluconate (a form of calcium that is easily absorbed) given by mouth

  • Intravenous (IV) calcium gluconate

Online Medical Reviewer: Dozier, Tennille, RN, BSN, RDMS
Online Medical Reviewer: newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 6/22/2013
© 2000-2014 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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