At its simplest level, calcinosis is the formation of calcium deposits in any soft tissue.
However, this condition can be far from simple. Deposits of calcium phosphate can occur in many different tissues throughout the body because patients develop calcinosis in a number of local and systemic ways, according to HealthScout.
Calcinosis can be very painful. Calcium phosphate crystals have the ability to congregate into round clumps that associate themselves with specific collagens in the body. Collagens are found in connective tissues such as bone, ligaments, cartilage and skin and make up nearly one third of the total protein in a human body. They’re very fibrous.
There are two basic types of calcinosis. One family is the product of an excessive amount of calcium in the blood that’s existed for a long period of time, known as hypercalcemia. Another cause is too much phosphorus in the blood, called hyperphosphatemia. Sometimes this family is the result of a combination of both conditions.
The second variety of calcinosis follows some type of local abnormality in the tissues affected. It divides into two classifications, metastatic calcification and dystrophic calcification.
In cases of metastatic calcification, the patient experiences calcium deposits in the stomach, kidney, brain, lung or eyes. They also occur in the skin, subcutaneous tissues and tissues around a joint and can sometimes even be found in walls of arteries. This classification is typically associated with underlying thyroid conditions or renal disease.
Tumoral calcinosis is part of this group but distinct because there is no involvement of internal organs. Instead, the patient usually quickly develops large masses under the skin and muscles around the hips, shoulders, elbows, hands and chest walls. Some researchers believe the tumoral variant is the result of heredity and an irregularity in the way the body metabolizes phosphorus.
In contrast to metastatic calcification, HealthScout points out that dystrophic calcification is a condition of patients with calcium deposits in their soft issue and no obvious disturbance in the way they process calcium or phosphorus. These individuals often have calcifications in places where they have experienced earlier inflammation or damage to their skin. Calcinosis of this type has been linked to connective tissue disease such as scleroderma.
The standard way of diagnosing dystrophic calcification is amazingly straightforward: a simple X-ray. When an X-ray reveals no problem but the patient continues to have symptoms, doctors typically order a CT scan.
The treatment for calcinosis varies greatly. Physicians prescribe a number of drugs, hormones and non-specific measures to bring the condition under control. The use of low-dose anti-coagulant therapy orally has sometimes reversed and even prevented subcutaneous calcinosis. Surgery sometimes is the only effective way to deal with large masses, however.
Colchine might be useful in reducing inflamed soft tissue. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications can also bring relief.
For metastatic calcification, the only effective treatment remains surgically removing the masses early. However, additional deposits can form around other joints over time.
Once a physician has mentioned the possibility of calcinosis, some patients find it helpful to ask a series of questions such as:
1. Which tests, if any, need to be performed to confirm the diagnosis or rule out any other possible conditions?
2. Which type of calcification is present?
3. What about any medication to help the condition?
4. Will surgery be necessary to remove calcium deposits?
5. If surgery is indicated, what does it entail?
6. Which treatment is best for calcification in a joint?
7. Is a special diet necessary?
Since calcinosis is sometimes a symptom of many other health conditions, it’s important to see a physician promptly rather than attempt to self-diagnose.