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Calcification is an accumulation of calcium that normally results in the formation of bones and teeth but can also cause hardened areas of plaque or cysts to develop in soft tissue throughout the body. Calcium deposits most commonly build up in areas where body cells are damaged, such as in breast tissue, joints or artery walls. Although abnormal calcification occurs for a variety of reasons, it does not result from normal consumption of calcium in the diet, according to Harvard Medical School.
High levels of calcium in the blood can lead to abnormal calcification. Normally, calcium in the blood travels to bones and teeth, where calcification causes hardening of these body parts. Abnormal calcification occurs when calcium is diverted to other parts of the body that are normally composed of soft tissue. Calcification can be due to infection, kidney or metabolic disorders, problems with blood vessels or simply aging. Calcium kidney stones are formed when calcium crystals separate out from urine to form a solid mass.
Calcium deposits, or calcifications, are found throughout the body. They are associated with damaged arteries that lead to the heart and brain, benign and malignant breast diseases, kidney stones, in muscle tissue and connective tissue, such as cartilage, and some joint and spine disorders. Calcium deposits also collect in lymph nodes found in and near various organs, such as the lungs.
Between 95 and 98 percent of soft tissue calcifications are dystrophic, or result from damage to soft tissue in a specific area of the body, according to University of Washington's Department of Radiology. Physical injury, autoimmune disorders, parasitic infection, loss of blood flow to a particular area, disease-related cell death and tumors can all cause damage to surrounding tissue and lead to calcification. The less common types of calcification include metastatic calcification, which results from diseases that cause elevated calcium-phosphate levels in the blood and osteosarcoma, or bone tumors that metastasize to soft tissue.
Although many calcium deposits are benign, calcification is also associated with some life-threatening health problems, such as certain types of cancerous tumors and tissue damage that causes atherosclerosis, or clogged, hardened arteries that result in heart attack. Calcifications found in arteries that lead to the brain, such as those in the neck and spine, can cause a stroke. In breast tissue, calcification is most often benign, but in some cases may indicate malignancy. Calcium deposits in joints and tendons sometimes contribute to inflammation, causing pain and limiting movement. Calcium crystals can also contribute to the erosion of cartilage. If calcium kidney stones are large or have jagged edges, they can cause extreme pain as they travel through the urinary tact and may cause a blockage that can lead to kidney failure.
Overuse of supplements that increase calcium absorption into the blood, such as vitamin D, can cause hypercalcemia, or high blood levels of calcium. Over time, hypercalcemia can lead to the formation of kidney stones and calcification of soft tissue in organs throughout the body.