Meaning of Calcification
Calcification refers to the accumulation of calcium or calcium salts in tissues where it does not belong. This often results in hardening of the tissue, which can have unpleasant or dangerous results.
It most commonly occurs in breast tissue, in the aortic valve of the heart, and in the coronary arteries. Dead or degenerated tissue can also be affected.
Calcification in the aortic valve of the heart can lead to a heart attack.
In breast tissue, calcification is a relatively common process characterized by the formation of calcium deposits.
This can be due to simple aging, inflammation, or a foreign object in the tissue, such as implants or sutures. Two main forms of calcification occur in breast tissue: macrocalcifications and microcalcifications.
The former are usually the result of degeneration of the breast tissue that occurs with age and are not usually a cause for concern. These deposits are thick in texture and usually occur in women over 50 years of age.
Calcification of the coronary arteries occurs when calcium builds up in the inner lining of the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart.
As their name suggests, microcalcifications are smaller calcium deposits. These small deposits aggregate in groups and may be an indication of breast cancer. Most other forms of calcification take place in the heart.
High blood pressure is a risk factor for calcification in the coronary arteries.
The valve that leads to the aorta from the heart is particularly susceptible to calcification. It was long thought to be a harmless condition, but later research suggests it may be an indication that the patient already has heart disease, even in the absence of other symptoms.
In the early stages, the function of the valve itself is not significantly affected, but it often causes an audible heart murmur. Advanced aortic calcification affects the valve and can do so to the extent that it can cause chest pain or even a heart attack.
Calcification can also occur in other areas of the heart, such as the arteries. In this case, the arterial plaques become covered with calcium deposits that form a brittle outer layer over the plaques.
Older adults are the most susceptible to calcification of this variety, particularly when they already have significant risk factors for heart disease.
Some tests can measure the amount of calcium present in plaques, but these tests are relatively new and are seriously limited on their own.
Less common forms of calcification can occur in almost any area of the body. Dystrophic calcification refers to that which occurs due to mineral deposits not caused by an elevated level of calcium in the tissue as a whole.
In contrast, when measured calcium levels rise in tissue, the precipitating calcium forms what is called a metastatic calcification in otherwise normal tissue.
Calcium deposits usually occur in women over 50 years of age.