Calciphylaxis is a rare condition where an excess of calcium forms in a person’s blood vessels and arteries. This buildup can cause clotting and result in severely painful skin lesions.

Calciphylaxis usually occurs in people with kidney disease.

It can be a serious condition that can have a high mortality rate. A person who believes they have calciphylaxis should consult a doctor to receive prompt diagnosis and treatment.

In this article, we explore the symptoms and causes of calciphylaxis. We also examine the condition’s complications and how doctors diagnose and treat it.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Common signs and symptoms of calciphylaxis may include:

At times, a person may also develop:

These symptoms can vary from person to person and in severity. In severe cases, the condition can have a very high mortality rate.

Symptoms of kidney disease

A person usually develops calciphylaxis because they have kidney disease, which may go without detection in its early stages. However, symptoms of late stage kidney disease may include:

Researchers do not know the exact cause of calciphylaxis. However, it generally occurs due to a buildup of calcium in the blood vessels. This buildup could result from a disruption in how the body mineral metabolizes certain minerals.

A 2018 review suggests that dialysis-dependent individuals, such as those with kidney disease, have mineral metabolism disruption, which may cause calcium buildup.

Research suggests that a person may be more likely to develop calciphylaxis if they are female or of Caucasian ethnicity.

Individuals who have the following conditions may also be more likely to develop calciphylaxis:


Some medications may increase a person’s risk of developing calciphylaxis, such as:

The most common reason for developing calciphylaxis may be advanced kidney failure. Calciphylaxis occurs in around 0.04 to 4% of dialysis patients.

One complication of calciphylaxis may be intense pain due to lesions and ulcers on the skin. These complications could result in a person having reduced mobility.

In addition, the skin lesions may not heal. They may also result in infections, which can occur due to open wounds and usually affect the blood.

Sepsis is also possible due to calciphylaxis. It occurs when a person’s body attacks tissues and organs in response to another infection. Sepsis can be life threatening.

People should consult a doctor immediately if they think they may have calciphylaxis.

Doctors may review a person’s medical history, ask for further information about symptoms, and perform a physical examination.

Researchers in 2019 suggested a person with end stage renal disease may receive a diagnosis of calciphylaxis if they present with ulcers on the skin.

Diagnostic tools

A person may require a biopsy of one of their lesions to rule out other similar conditions. Alternatively, a medical professional may carry out a biopsy if a person is in the early stages of renal disease.

However, biopsies can sometimes aggravate the ulcers and cause bleeding or an infection. This is why some medical professionals may occasionally choose not to perform one if they are confident of their diagnosis.

Blood tests can also show levels of calcium in the blood. Additionally, X-rays may display any calcium deposits in the body.

There are various methods to treat calciphylaxis. Multiple healthcare specialists in nephrology, dermatology, wound care, and pain management will need to coordinate to find the best treatment for an individual.

The goal of treatment involves:

  • optimizing wound management
  • stopping the progression of vessel wall calcification
  • reversing vessel wall calcification


Doctors used cinacalcet to treat high calcium levels in hyperparathyroidism in people receiving long-term dialysis for kidney disease. Hyperparathyroidism refers to the overactive functioning of the parathyroid glands.

Cinacalcet usually comes in tablet form, and a person takes it orally. A 2019 review states that people showed a high response rate to the medication for the treatment of calciphylaxis.

A 2019 review stated that sodium thiosulfate is a common calciphylaxis treatment — doctors gave it to 50.3% of people with the condition. While it does not have approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), doctors may prescribe it off-label to help reduce calcium buildup in the arteries.

Additionally, doctors may administer sodium thiosulfate intravenously into a vein during a dialysis session.

Wound care

A person may receive antibiotics for their wounds to prevent infection. Additionally, a healthcare professional may dress the wounds if necessary.

Doctors may use debridement to remove dead tissue from the wounds. This procedure may occasionally involve surgery.

Learn more about open wound care.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may promote wound healing. It involves the wounds receiving exposure to oxygen at a much higher pressure than usual. This helps speed up the healing process.

A 2015 analysis concluded that this therapy benefited more than half of the people they evaluated. The authors also implied this could increase the person’s life expectancy.

Kidney transplant

Some research presents three case studies of individuals who received an urgent kidney transplant after developing calciphylaxis. The patients all had stage 5 kidney failure.

All three individuals recovered from calciphylaxis after their transplant.

The mortality rate for calciphylaxis is around 30% after 6 months and 50% at 12 months. Research suggests that septicemia, or blood poisoning, due to wound infection is the leading cause of death in people with calciphylaxis.

The earlier a doctor diagnoses a person’s symptoms, the sooner they can start treatment to improve outcomes.

There are limited preventive treatments once a person has end stage kidney disease.

Medical professionals may monitor and attempt to control the mineral and calcium levels in someone with end stage kidney disease to avoid calciphylaxis.

Doctors can also educate and screen people at risk for developing calciphylaxis to help prevent it.

Calciphylaxis is a rare and severe condition that affects people with end stage renal disease. It usually results in severely painful lesions on the skin that may result in infection.

The mortality rate is high in people with calciphylaxis. However, treatment options may help promote wound healing and manage pain. However, limited preventive treatments exist for individuals who enter end stage renal disease.

People should seek prompt medical attention if they think they may have calciphylaxis. This helps rule out other conditions and facilitates early treatment for more positive outcomes.