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What Is Milk-Alkali Syndrome?

Milk-alkali syndrome is a rare condition resulting from excessive intake of calcium and absorbable alkali, often through overconsumption of calcium supplements and antacids. It can lead to a range of symptoms, from mild to severe, including kidney dysfunction and elevated blood calcium levels. Curious about how dietary habits can tip the balance? Discover the intricacies of this syndrome with us.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Milk-alkali syndrome is a form of hypercalcemia, a high concentration of calcium in the blood, caused by excessive calcium intake. Patients with this condition may drink a substantial amount of milk, as implied by the name, and also take calcium supplements to increase the amount of calcium in their diets. When the level gets too high, the blood chemistry turns alkaline, and can start to damage the kidneys. The patient may start to experience a cascade of reactions related to the kidney dysfunction.

This condition was initially observed in patients with peptic ulcers, who were encouraged to take calcium products and drink milk to limit the effects of their ulcers. Changes in approaches to ulcer treatment reduced the incidence in this setting. Today, milk-alkali syndrome can still be seen in some patients who take excessive bicarbonate tablets to manage ulcer pain at home, but it can also be observed in patients who use calcium supplementation to reduce the risk of osteoporosis, and in the treatment of other diseases.

People who drink a great deal of milk can develop milk-alkali syndrome.
People who drink a great deal of milk can develop milk-alkali syndrome.

It can take as little as 2 grams of calcium in the diet per day to develop milk-alkali syndrome. Some patients appear to be at increased risk because their bodies absorb calcium more readily, especially if they are drinking milk fortified with vitamin D. Patients can develop symptoms like nausea, decreased appetite, weakness, fatigue, and kidney stones. Paradoxically, milk-alkali syndrome can increase the risk of fractures, contrary to the expectations of patients accustomed to hearing that increasing calcium intake can reduce the incidence of broken bones.

Some patient’s bodies absorb calcium more readily, and can develop symptoms like kidney stones.
Some patient’s bodies absorb calcium more readily, and can develop symptoms like kidney stones.

A doctor can diagnose milk-alkali syndrome with some blood and urine testing to learn about the blood chemistry and kidney function. This information, along with a patient interview, may provide enough data for the doctor to make an authoritative diagnosis. The immediate treatment involves reducing calcium intake to a safer level. If the patient has an underlying medical issue that contributed to the high calcium intake, it may also be necessary to discuss alternative techniques for managing the problem.

Milk-alkali syndrome was initially observed in patients with peptic ulcers.
Milk-alkali syndrome was initially observed in patients with peptic ulcers.

Patients taking calcium supplements should not be at risk of milk-alkali syndrome if they follow the recommendations with the supplements. A doctor can provide a patient with dosing advice to make sure the patient’s calcium intake stays within a safe range. Patients who start to notice issues like repeated episodes of nausea and fatigue may want to discuss them with a doctor to explore possible causes and treatment options.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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

Learn more...

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    • People who drink a great deal of milk can develop milk-alkali syndrome.
      By: Hyrma
      People who drink a great deal of milk can develop milk-alkali syndrome.
    • Some patient’s bodies absorb calcium more readily, and can develop symptoms like kidney stones.
      By: airborne77
      Some patient’s bodies absorb calcium more readily, and can develop symptoms like kidney stones.
    • Milk-alkali syndrome was initially observed in patients with peptic ulcers.
      By: rob3000
      Milk-alkali syndrome was initially observed in patients with peptic ulcers.