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What is Calcitonin?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Calcitonin is a hormone which plays a role in the metabolism of calcium and phosphorous. It is naturally present in the body to control levels of these minerals in the blood, and it may also be administered therapeutically to deal with bone loss and bone pain caused by certain conditions. People at increased risk of fractures may also be given calcitonin to reduce the possibility of a bone fracture, and to decrease the severity of fractures when they do occur.

This hormone is produced in the thyroid under normal conditions. It interacts with calcitonin receptors on the bone to inhibit the natural breakdown of bone, and control the overall amount of calcium in the bloodstream. It also works with the kidneys to help them metabolize and store calcium and phosphorous, and it appears to play a role in the regulation of appetite, although this link has not been proved.

When a doctor suspects that a patient has a thyroid disorder, particularly cancer, he or she may order a calcitonin test. In this test, a sample of blood is taken to determine how much of the hormone is in the blood. The patient may also be given injections of calcium to test the body's response. If levels of the hormone are abnormal, it can suggest the presence of a cancer in the thyroid which will need to be addressed. Normal levels vary, depending on the patient and the situation, and there is no standard reading which patients need to shoot for when they receive a calcitonin test.

Therapeutically, calcitonin injections or nasal sprays are sometimes given to cancer patients to reduce the bone loss associated with cancer treatment, and to help patients cope with bone pain. The drug may also be given to people with osteoporosis and related conditions to prevent fractures, as calcitonin reduces bone loss, which keeps the bones stronger and less subject to breakage.

Most of the calcitonin administered to patients is derived from salmon. Some people experience allergic reactions to the drug, and others can suffer from nausea, hives, stomach pain, runny nose, loss of appetite, and vomiting. Patients must also learn to administer the drug properly, as it is not effective when taken orally, meaning that they need to learn about how to give injections safely, or how to use a nasal spray appropriately. If side effects are experienced, they should be reported to a doctor immediately.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By kylee07drg — On Jun 26, 2011

Next to the thyroid gland are the parathyroid glands. These produce parathyroid hormone to regulate the body’s calcium levels. Calcitonin takes care of the metabolism but not regulation, and parathyroid takes care of regulation, but not metabolism, so they make a good pair.

I had been feeling run down, depressed, and irritable, so I went to my doctor, who told me that the reason for this was too much parathyroid hormone. It turned out I had to have one of my parathyroid glands removed, and I feel so much better now.

By OeKc05 — On Jun 25, 2011

@StarJo - I personally haven’t experienced any side effects, but I can tell you which ones are listed on the package. Common side effects include nose bleeds, a runny nose, irritation of the nasal passage, a dry, crusty nose, dizziness, headache, facial flushing, nausea, and back pain. If these last a long time or get worse, then your grandmother should see her doctor.

There is an unlikely side effect that rarely occurs, but if it does, it is serious. This is the development of nasal sores, and it warrants a trip to the doctor.

Though serious allergic reactions are unlikely, they are possible. Symptoms include itching or swelling of the throat, tongue, or face, a rash, extreme dizziness, and trouble breathing.

By StarJo — On Jun 24, 2011

@OeKc05 - My grandmother just started using calcitonin spray. What are some of its side effects? I hope they aren’t too bad.

By OeKc05 — On Jun 23, 2011

I have osteoporosis, and my doctor prescribed calcitonin salmon nasal spray. I have to use it once a day, but I have to remember to alternate which nostril I use it in every day. My doctor told me to take it at about the same time each day so that I don’t forget.

He also told me to take the exact dosage he prescribed, no more, no less. Though my osteoporosis will not be cured by calcitonin, it does help treat it. I have been feeling better lately, but my doctor said I have to keep using the nasal spray anyway. He showed me exactly how to use it and made me practice while he watched.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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