What is hypermagnesemia? 

Hypermagnesemia is a rare condition. It happens when there's too much magnesium in your blood. Magnesium is a mineral that helps your bones, heart and other body functions work well. When you have levels that are very high, it can be a sign of kidney failure. Your kidneys are meant to get rid of too much magnesium.

Causes of hypermagnesemia

This condition most often happens because your kidneys stop working right in some way. It happens frequently to people who have end-of-life kidney failure or kidneys that don't work as the result of another condition. When your kidneys aren't working properly, they can't keep the magnesium in your body at the right levels. The mineral builds up in your blood, which can lead to hypermagnesemia. Having end-stage liver disease can also cause this condition. This means your liver has gradually stopped working properly over the course of years.

Risk factors for hypermagnesemia

In general, people's kidneys do a very good job of getting rid of too much magnesium. The risk of hypermagnesemia is very low until you're experiencing kidney failure. Doctors often diagnose this condition in people who are very old or people who have bowel disorders. People who are on dialysis may be at risk for this condition. But the process of dialysis itself helps to reduce the risk. Some diseases, like hypothyroidism, Addison's disease and milk-alkali syndrome, increase the risk. If you're taking drugs with magnesium, including laxatives and antacids, you might also be at greater risk.

Symptoms of hypermagnesemia

Hypermagnesemia has serious symptoms. They can cause problems with your heart and difficulty breathing. Some people experience signs of shock or go into a coma. Other symptoms of hypermagnesemia include:

  • Very low blood pressure
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches

Diagnosis of hypermagnesemia

If you're experiencing any symptoms, your doctor will first give you a physical exam. They'll look at your body to see if you have any signs of disease. Then, they may ask you questions about any medicines you're taking. Your doctor may want you to do a blood test. This tells them the level of magnesium in your blood. The higher the level, the more severe your case of hypermagnesemia can be. A normal level of magnesium in the blood is between 1.7 and 2.3 milligrams per deciliter. If your tests show that you have 2.6 mg/dL or more, your doctor may diagnose you with hypermagnesemia.

Treatments for hypermagnesemia

The first step in treatment of hypermagnesemia is for your doctor to figure out what's causing the condition. If it's related to any medication you're taking, you'll likely need to stop consuming magnesium to bring the levels down.

Other treatments for hypermagnesemia include:

  • An IV of calcium that can help calm some symptoms. Calcium helps normalize your heartbeat and breathing.
  • Getting rid of the excess magnesium with water pills, diuretics or other forms of calcium 

If your magnesium levels are still high after this treatment, it's possible that you might need to undergo dialysis. This process is necessary if your kidneys are failing. In a hospital, clinic or at home, you use a machine to remove the excess calcium from your blood. The dialysis machine takes over the functions that your kidneys normally do. Depending on the type of dialysis, the process can take between one and four hours.

Recovery from hypermagnesemia

If your kidneys are functioning normally, you may able to treat your hypermagnesemia easily. You can return to normal life once your doctor finds out where the excess magnesium is coming from and you get treatment. The earlier your doctor diagnoses your condition, the easier it can be to treat it and recover fully.

If your hypermagnesemia happened because of kidney failure, you're more likely to have complications. This might make recovery more challenging. If you get your condition diagnosed only once it's gotten severe, recovery may be more difficult and take longer. Talk with your doctor about your symptoms and ways to prevent additional health issues.

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