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Milk-alkali syndrome

Definition

Milk-alkali syndrome is an acquired condition in which there are high levels of calcium (hypercalcemia) and a shift in the body's acid/base balance towards alkaline (metabolic alkalosis).

Alternative Names

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Milk-alkali syndrome is caused by excessive consumption of milk (which is high in calcium) and certain antacids, especially calcium carbonate or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), over a long period of time.

Calcium deposits in the kidneys and in other tissues can occur in milk-alkali syndrome. Consumption of excessive amounts of vitamin D, which is usually added to milk bought at the supermarket, can worsen this condition.

In the past, milk-alkali syndrome was often a side effect of treating peptic ulcer disease with antacids containing calcium. It is rarely seen today, because newer, better medications are available for treating ulcers. A more common scenario today is when someone takes too much calcium carbonate in an attempt to prevent osteoporosis. This syndrome has been reported in persons who take as little as 2 grams of calcium per day.

Symptoms

The condition usually has no symptoms (asymptomatic). When symptoms do occur, they are often related to complications, such as kidney problems.

Symptoms include:

  • Back, middle of the body, and loin pain (related to kidney stones)
  • Excessive urination
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Other problems that can result from kidney failure

Signs and tests

Calcium deposits within the tissue of the kidney (nephrocalcinosis) may be seen on:

  • X-rays
  • Computed tomography (CT scans)
  • Ultrasound

Other tests used to make a diagnosis:

Treatment

Treatment involves reducing or eliminating milk and other forms of calcium such as in antacids. If severe kidney failure has occurred, the damage may be permanent.

Support Groups

Expectations (prognosis)

This condition is often reversible if kidney function remains normal. Severe prolonged cases may lead to permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis.

Complications

The most common complications include:

  • Calcium deposits in tissues (calcinosis)
  • Kidney failure
  • Kidney stones

Calling your health care provider

Contact your health care provider if:

  • You drink large amounts of milk and you often use antacids.
  • You have any symptoms that might suggest kidney problems.

Prevention

Milk-alkali syndrome is now very uncommon because nonantacid treatments for indigestion, gastric ulcers, and peptic ulcer disease have replaced most excessive antacid use.

If you do use antacids often, don't drink large amounts of milk, and tell your doctor about your digestive problems. If you are trying to prevent osteoporosis, do not take more than 1.5 grams of calcium per day.

References

Wysolmerski JJ, Insogna KL. The parathyroid glands, hypercalcemia, and hypocalcemia. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 266.

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    Review Date: 11/30/2009

    Review By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; Herbert Y. Lin, MD, PHD, Nephrologist, Massachusetts General Hospital; Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

    The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2010 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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