Hypocalcemia in critically ill patients

B Chernow, G Zaloga, E McFadden, M Clapper, M Kotler, M Barton, T G Rainey
Critical Care Medicine 1982, 10 (12): 848-51
Hypocalcemia is an important metabolic problem in critical care medicine. To determine the frequency of this problem and the patient subsets at risk, a retrospective study of a large series of ICU patients was performed. During the study period, 259 patients were admitted to the ICU, of whom 210 (81%) had a serum calcium (Ca++) measured. Of these 210 patients, 135 (64%) were hypocalcemic (serum Ca++ less than 8.5 mg/dl) and 75 (36%) were normocalcemic. Serum albumin concentration was less than 3.5 g/dl in 70% of the hypocalcemic patients who hd albumin measured, suggesting that the ionized Ca++ concentration may have been normal in many of these patients. On the other hand, 32% of the hypocalcemic patients were alkalotic (pH greater than or equal to 7.45) which indicates that ionized Ca++ levels may have been low because Ca++ binding to protein increases with alkalosis. Gastrointestinal bleeders and postabdominal surgery patients were more likely to have low total serum Ca++ whereas cardiac and neurosurgical patients were more likely to have a normal total serum Ca++ (p less than 0.05). Ionized Ca++ was calculated in 36 of the normocalcemic and 80 of the hypocalcemic patients. The hypocalcemic group had significantly lower ionized Ca++ levels when compared to those of the normocalcemic group (p less than 0.001). Patients with low serum Ca++ values spent a longer time in the ICU (p less than 0.01), had an increased incidence of renal failure and sepsis (p less than 0.01), had an increased mortality rate (p less than 0.001), and received a greater number of blood transfusions (p less than 0.001) than patients in the normocalcemic group. It is concluded that: (1) hypocalcemia is a frequent finding in critically ill patients; (2) determining ionized Ca++ levels is useful because many ICU patients have alterations in both arterial pH and serum albumin levels; (3) hypoalbuminemia, sepsis, red cell transfusions, and renal failure are predisposing factors for hypocalcemia; and (4) hypocalcemic patients do less well clinically than normocalcepatientsmic patients.

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