Surgical versus medical treatment for calciphylaxis




Calciphylaxis is a rare, painful, life-threatening problem of cutaneous necrosis and refractory healing seen in patients with uraemia and secondary hyperparathyroidism. The pathogenesis involves abnormalities in calcium and phosphorus metabolism, and acute deposition of calcium in tissues.


The clinical course of 16 patients diagnosed with calciphylaxis at this institution from 1994 to 1998 was reviewed.


Fourteen women and two men, with a mean age of 56 (range 39–70) years, presented with chronic renal disease of various causes, hyperparathyroidism and characteristic skin lesions. All patients underwent intensive medical therapy, including haemodialysis (n = 16), parathyroidectomy (PTX) (n = 7) and skin debridement of cutaneous lesions (n = 8). Mean preoperative serum values in surgical (PTX) versus non-surgical patients were: calcium 9·9 and 9·3 mg dl−1 (P = 0·25); phosphorus 5·8 and 4·9 mg dl−1 (P = 0·04); calcium–phosphorus product 61·6 and 45·2 (P = 0·03); and parathyroid hormone (PTH) 56·8 and 5·9 pmol l−1 (P = 0·0001) respectively. Mean postoperative values for calcium (8·7 mg dl−1), phosphorus (4·2 mg dl−1), calcium–phosphorus product (30·5) and PTH (4·0 pmol l−1) in surgical patients changed significantly (P < 0·05). Median overall survival was 9·4 months with 15 patients now deceased. Median survival was 14·8 and 6·3 months for PTX versus no PTX (P = 0·22), 14·1 and 6·1 months for skin debridement versus no debridement (P = 0·08), 12·4 and 6·6 months for proximal versus distal skin lesions (P = 0·60), and 6·5 and 13·9 months for diabetic versus non-diabetic patients was (P = 0·11).


Calciphylaxis appears to have a female preponderance with a very dismal prognosis. A multidisciplinary approach using frequent haemodialysis to normalize serum calcium and phosphorus levels, and local debridement of skin lesions seems prudent. PTX cannot be recommended routinely in all such patients unless severe secondary hyperparathyroidism with poorly controlled metabolic disturbance mandates surgery. The exact indications for PTX for calciphylaxis remain unclear. © 2000 British Journal of Surgery Society Ltd