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What is Hypermagnesemia?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 October 2016
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Hypermagnesemia is a fairly rare condition that is chiefly described as an “electrolyte imbalance.” What this truly means is that the body has overly high (hyper) levels of magnesium in the blood, and the kidneys are unable to handle or excrete these amounts efficiently. The condition can be minor or very severe depending upon blood serum levels of magnesium and amount of damage the condition may have already caused.

Symptoms of hypermagnesemia are numerous. In people with slightly high levels, there might be some fatigue, lack of reflex response, sleepiness and then nausea or vomiting. Yet higher levels of magnesium and presence of hypermagnesemia for a period of time may result in much more severe symptoms. These can include very dangerous arrhythmias (rhythm irregularities in the heart), the heart stopping, extreme confusion, and some people can lapse into a coma. Without treatment the condition can cause death.

There are numerous causes of hypermagnesemia. Some people with diabetes are more prone to the condition, and anyone with damaged kidneys may have a more difficult time properly clearing magnesium from the body. This can be complicated if people take supplements with magnesium or over the counter medications, like many antacids.

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Other causes of this condition can include if a person takes lithium and has abnormally high lithium serum blood levels. Alternately, the parathyroid gland can produce too much parathyroid hormone and result in high magnesium levels. Electrolyte imbalance is possible under a number of circumstances. These could include extreme dehydration from things like acute stomach flu or too much exertion in the sun without adequate fluid levels.

There are a number of ways to address hypermagnesemia. If blood levels are slightly off, people might have intravenous (IV) calcium or receive injections of calcium. It’s also advisable to drink plenty of fluids in order to keep the kidneys working at peak efficiency. On the other hand, if the kidneys are having difficulty making urine or excreting enough urine, a hospital treatment could involve giving diuretics through an intravenous line to stimulate the kidneys to remove the extra magnesium.

When hypermagnesemia is life threatening and at an advanced stage, doctors may need to move quickly to treat it. Common treatment for severe cases includes using kidney dialysis. It should be noted that most cases are caught well before this is necessary. However, in circumstances where extreme renal damage already exists, dialysis may be a method of preventing hypermagnesemia and keeping kidney function at acceptable levels while awaiting more permanent treatment like kidney transplant.

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