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Original article

Vol. 153 No. 4 (2023)

Characteristics and outcome of severe hypercalcemia on admission to the emergency department: a retrospective cohort study

  • Svenja Ravioli
  • Anne Lafranchi
  • Aristomenis K. Exadaktylos
  • Michael Haidinger
  • Gregor Lindner
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2023;153:40069


AIMS OF THE STUDY: To investigate the prevalence of hypercalcemia (>2.60 mmol/l) and severe hypercalcemia (≥2.80 mmol/l) on admission. Symptoms, causes, course of serum calcium, treatment and outcome of severe hypercalcemia were evaluated and compared to historical data from previous studies.

METHODS: In this retrospective cohort study, all patients presenting to the interdisciplinary emergency department of the Buergerspital Solothurn between 01 January 2017 and 31 December 2020 with measurements of serum calcium were included. Chart reviews were performed for patients with calcium ≥2.80 mmol/l to assess clinical presentation, course of disease and treatment for severe hypercalcemia.

RESULTS: Of 31,963 tested patients, 869 patients (2.7%) had hypercalcemia on the admission, of which 161 had severe hypercalcemia. Non-albumin corrected calcium was 3.07 (0.32) while albumin corrected calcium was 3.34 (0.44). Calcium was higher in patients with malignancy-related hypercalcemia (3.18 [0.34] versus 3.00 [0.3], p <0.001). Neuropsychiatric (35%) and gastrointestinal (24%) were the leading symptoms. Malignancy was the most common identifiable cause of hypercalcemia (40%), with lung cancer (20%), multiple myeloma (14%) and renal cell carcinoma (11%) being the main cancer types. 36% of patients with severe hypercalcemia took calcium supplements. Bisphosphonate treatment was an independent predictor of a fall in calcium until day 5 (regression coefficient: –0.404, standard error 0.11, p <0.001). Hypercalcemia was not mentioned in the final discharge report in 38% of cases.

CONCLUSION: Severe hypercalcemia is common and malignancy-related in almost half of the cases. Neuropsychiatric and gastrointestinal symptoms were most prevalent. Awareness of hypercalcemia, particularly in cancer patients and those with known triggering factors, should be raised in order to identify and treat this harmful disorder early.


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