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Calciphylaxis is the accumulation of calcium in the blood vessels of the skin and fatty tissue. Calcium also builds up in the arterioles, the smallest parts of the arteries. The affected tissue is located just beneath the skin, around internal organs, in bone marrow, and in the breast, as well as within the muscular system. The calcium hardens, blocking vessels and arterioles, which slows or stops blood flow and often forms blood clots. Cells become deprived of oxygen they need to survive, which negatively affects the surrounding tissue. The spread of calciphylaxis is quick and painful.

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Causes of Calciphylaxis

The cause of calciphylaxis is unknown at this time. Originally, doctors thought the onset of kidney disease caused it. However, people with healthy renal systems also develop calciphylaxis. How the body breaks down calcium may be a factor, as might problems with blood clot formation or the body's ability to prevent calcium buildup. Also linked to calciphylaxis are abnormal vitamin and hormone levels.

Causes of Calciphylaxis skhoward / Getty Images
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Disease That Can Lead to Calciphylaxis

The kidneys are responsible for how the body processes waste, including calcium. They also filter blood. Because of that, kidney disease is the main risk factor for calciphylaxis. Dialysis and kidney transplants increase this risk. Other diseases also increase the risk of this secondary disease, including inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, hyperparathyroidism, and ulcerative colitis. Autoimmune disease, metastatic cancer, and diabetes can also increase the likelihood of developing calciphylaxis.

Risk Factors of Calciphylaxis RossHelen / Getty Images
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Other Risk Factors of Calciphylaxis

Females develop calciphylaxis at a much higher rate than males. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, obesity increases the risk of developing calciphylaxis four-fold. Taking certain medications, and imbalances in hormonal, protein and vitamin levels, can have similar results. Exposure to ultraviolet light or aluminum is another risk factor, as are skin trauma and rapid weight loss.

Risk Factors of Calciphylaxis Igor Alecsander / Getty Images
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Symptoms of Calciphylaxis

Calciphylaxis limits the amount of blood flow and oxygen in the cells. When that happens, lesions develop on the skin. They form a net-like pattern at first, then grow larger and become dark bluish-purple or black wounds. This happens because of skin necrosis -- the tissue is dying. The wounds do not heal, but become larger and eventually cause serious infections.

Symptoms of Calciphylaxis kali9 / Getty Images

Diagnosing Calciphylaxis

There are no specific tests for diagnosing calciphylaxis. The presence of skin necrosis is usually enough to make the diagnosis in patients with kidney disease. However, in patients with healthy renal systems, the doctor must examine the medical history and lab results and perform a tissue biopsy.

Diagnosing Calciphylaxis sanjeri / Getty Images

Problems with Diagnosing Calciphylaxis

A biopsy cannot is not always possible because biopsies cause skin wounds. If the skin is already necrotic, this is one more wound that will not heal properly. Biopsies are also not performed on sensitive areas or infected skin, which can severely limit their usefulness in cases of calciphylaxis. Doctors turn to imaging if a biopsy is not possible or inconclusive. They look for net-like patterns under the skin.

Problems with Diagnosing Calciphylaxis JohnnyGreig / Getty Images

Treatment of Calciphylaxis

Calciphylaxis causes a lot of pain. Therefore, pain management is a top priority of treatment. Another is slowing calcification with medication, which can also help prevent unwanted blood clots. Dialysis and oxygen therapy are additional options. The latter increases the amount of oxygen in cells. Surgery to remove an overactive thyroid gland may also offer relief.

Treatment of Calciphylaxis asiseeit / Getty Images

Wound Care Related to Calciphylaxis

Wound care is a major part of calciphylaxis treatment. Infection is common and prevention is vital. To do so, doctors will remove damaged tissue whenever possible, a procedure called debridement. Unfortunately, debridement causes a lot of pain, which can make it an unviable solution. In such cases, the doctor may apply wet bandages and administer antibiotics.

Wound Care and Calciphylaxis surasit bunnet / Getty Images

Prognosis of Calciphylaxis

A positive prognosis for calciphylaxis largely depends on early diagnosis. Having a healthy renal system is also helpful. Unfortunately, the prognosis is less positive for people with end-stage renal disease. Either way, people with calciphylaxis can improve their outlook by following the doctor's prescribed disease management program and continuing to manage any co-occurring medical conditions.

Prognosis of Calciphylaxis Hispanolistic / Getty Images

The Future of Calciphylaxis Treatment

Experimental treatments for calciphylaxis are promising. Researchers are currently testing gene therapy targeting certain molecules. The use of sodium thiosulfate, a compound that slows calcification, is also being explored, and some vitamin supplements and blood clotting medications show promise. It is evident that the medical world takes calciphylaxis very seriously, and trials will continue until researchers discover an effective treatment program.

The Future of Calciphylaxis Treatment chemicalbilly / Getty Images

Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.