Frequently Asked Questions

Is taking calcium for years dangerous?

About once every 2 weeks we get asked if taking calcium every day for years can be dangerous. This question typically stems from some reports back in 2012 that said patients with high blood calcium are at higher risk of heart attacks and other heart and blood vessel disease.  No kidding!  Of course we know this because that is what hyperparathyroidism does!

Unfortunately, the lay media doesn’t understand this very well and they concluded that taking daily calcium can be bad for your health. Well, it is more complex than that.  Important!  On this page of the app we are talking about taking calcium for YEARS after your parathyroid operation. We are not talking about the high doses of calcium you must take in the first 2 weeks after your operation. Now that you understand the context of this page, let’s look at what you should do for the many years after your parathyroid operation.

Patients with parathyroid problems are different.

Patients who had a parathyroid problem (hyperparathyroidism) can have different calcium requirements from “regular folks”  for many years after their parathyroid operation. Parathyroid patients typically have lost quite a bit of calcium from their bones. Of course we call this osteopenia, or osteoporosis (the second being just more advanced than the first). Therefore, patients who had a successful parathyroid operation should be taking calcium for a “long time” to replace the calcium that was lost.

How long is a “long time”?

How long you take calcium after your parathyroid operation depends on your bones, your age, and whether you are a man or woman. So there is not a single recommendation for all our patients. Women typically need to take calcium longer than men. Post-menopausal women typically need to take calcium longer than younger women. A “long time” can be 6 months for a healthy 40 year old man, or it can be for the rest of your life if you are a post-menopausal woman with very bad osteoporosis.

What do your bones look like?

One of the reasons we ask for your bone DEXA scan (osteoporosis scan) when you are becoming a patient of ours is because we want to see how much damage has been done to your bones–which can sometimes be a reflection on how long you have had the parathyroid problem. If you have bad osteoporosis you will need to take calcium for many years, and may need to take one of the osteoporosis medications too (i.e., Fosamax, Reclast, etc).

If your bones are not very bad and you are not post menopausal, then a typical recommendation would be to take 2 calcium pills per day and a multi-vitamin per day for a year or so after your operation, and then cut back to one calcium pill and one multi-vitamin per day.  If you are a man, and your bones are good, you can stop taking calcium in 6 months. If you are a man with osteoporosis, then you need the same as a post-menopausal woman until your bones are better.

Bottom line

The bottom line is that the data that says taking calcium every day is bad does not really apply to patients who had a parathyroid problem. However, there is no reason to take calcium (or anything else) that you don’t need. Let your bone density determine what you need. We do, however, recommend that all women over 40 take one calcium pill and one multi-vitamin every day.

We have other sections in this app that discuss which multivitamin to take (doesn’t really matter), and other pages on osteoporosis medications.

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