Hypocalcemia in critically ill patients

Crit Care Med. 1992 Feb;20(2):251-62. doi: 10.1097/00003246-199202000-00014.


Purpose: To review calcium regulation, causes of hypocalcemia during critical illness, clinical features and treatment of hypocalcemia, hemodynamic effects of calcium administration, calcium-catecholamine interactions, and the role of calcium in ischemic injury.

Design: Representative articles from the medical literature are used to support the discussion of selected aspects of calcium metabolism which are important to the practice of critical care medicine.

Subjects: Results from both animal and human investigations and both in vitro and in vivo studies are discussed.

Results: Circulating calcium levels are best measured using ionized calcium electrodes. Ionized hypocalcemia is common in critically ill patients and usually results from impaired parathyroid hormone secretion or action, impaired vitamin D synthesis or action, or calcium chelation/precipitation. Ionized hypocalcemia most commonly presents as cardiovascular or neuromuscular insufficiency. Mild ionized hypocalcemia (greater than 0.8 mmol/L) is usually asymptomatic and frequently does not require treatment. Moderate-to-severe ionized hypocalcemia is best treated with iv calcium in the critically ill patient. The majority of studies report no increase in cardiac output but a significant increase in BP after iv calcium administration. When administered with beta-adrenergic agonists, calcium frequently impairs their cardiovascular actions. Intracellular calcium dysregulation is common during ischemic and shock states. Agents which increase intracellular calcium may be harmful during cellular ischemia.

Conclusions: Alterations in calcium regulation and calcium concentrations are common during critical illness. Optimal management of altered calcium concentrations requires an understanding of the pathophysiology behind these alterations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / adverse effects
  • Calcium / physiology
  • Calcium / therapeutic use
  • Critical Illness*
  • Humans
  • Hypocalcemia* / diagnosis
  • Hypocalcemia* / metabolism
  • Hypocalcemia* / therapy


  • Calcium