Background: Hypocalcemia and increased serum levels of calcitonin precursors are common in critically ill patients, especially in those with sepsis. We investigated calcium homeostasis in such patients.
Patients and methods: Serum concentrations of total and ionized calcium and known factors influencing or reflecting calcium homeostasis were measured in 101 consecutive patients of a medical intensive care unit. Calcitonin precursor levels were determined using a highly sensitive radioimmunoassay.
Results: Critical illness per se was associated with decreased serum total and ionized calcium levels, which correlated with the severity of the underlying disease as measured by the APACHE II score. In addition, total and ionized hypocalcemia was more pronounced with increasing severity of infection (P < 0.02), and occurred in parallel with a marked increase of calcitonin precursors (P < 0.001). Mature calcitonin levels, however, remained normal. Changes of serum ionized calcium concentrations from admission to discharge correlated significantly with changes in the serum calcitonin precursor concentration (r2 = - 0.14, P < 0.001). Circulating vitamin D levels, parathyroid hormone levels and other markers reflecting calcium homeostasis did not correlate with the severity of infection.
Conclusions: In critically ill patients with sepsis, markedly elevated circulating calcitonin precursors might play a role in the development of the pronounced hypocalcemia. The specific calcitonin precursor(s) responsible for this effect and the pathophysiological mechanism remain to be elucidated.