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What is Dystrophic Calcification?

By Maggie J. Hall
Updated Feb 19, 2024
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Dystrophic calcification is a cellular response to severely damaged or dead tissue. Large cells called macrophages begin digest necrotic tissue. During this digestive process, calcium salts accumulate in the area, causing necrotic tissue calcification. Degenerated tissue calcification can occur anywhere in the body, triggered by an autoimmune disease, infection, and certain cancers. Injured tissue can also develop calcified areas.

Persons diagnosed with certain autoimmune disorders, including dermatomyositis and scleroderma, can experience dystrophic calcification. Tissue inflammation occurs when the immune system begins attacking the body, and once invaded and damaged, these areas often develop cartilaginous or hyalinized scar tissue. Calcium deposits may develop when macrophages initially attack tissues or when white blood cells attempt to digest scar tissue. Health care providers inhibit the calcification process in these disorders by interfering with the immune response. Treating these disorders often involves prescription anti-inflammatory or immune-suppressing medications.

When the immune system perceives abnormal cell growth or invading organisms as threats, dystrophic calcification usually occurs as the immune system responds by walling off the affected area. Persons contracting parasitic or tuberculosis infections regularly develop calcified regions around the infected tissue as the immune system attempts to destroy the foreign organisms. Treatment with the proper medications generally eliminates the infection and prevents further calcification. As sarcoma tumors begin forming, malignant cells often produce dystrophic calcification formations. These calcified regions are often apparent when bone sarcomas metastasize to nearby soft or distant breast tissue.

After tissue becomes injured or traumatized, blood may pool, resulting in a bruise or hematoma. Open wounds usually develop scar tissue. Either of these scenarios may result in dystrophic calcification resulting from a condition known as traumatic myositis ossificans. Injection granulomas can occur when medication is inadvertently injected into fatty tissue, causing necrosis and scar formation. Cellular infiltration may result in calcium deposits, and granuloma or myositis ossificans treatment might require surgical removal.

Venous insufficiency, prolonged immobility, and other conditions may produce blood clots, and these clots can calcify, causing a phlebolith. Predominantly found in organs located in the pelvic region, phleboliths may form anywhere in the venous structures. Hardening of the arteries begins as lipoprotein or fatty deposits between the innermost and medial walls of an artery. Phagocytic cells commonly digest these deposits, but when these cells die, they release chemicals attracting more phagocytes, causing inflammation, calcium deposits, and plaque formation.

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Discussion Comments
By Slitherine — On Mar 19, 2014

This calcification of tissue is a lot like the body building a wall around a sometimes traumatic problem in the body.

When tissues in the body start to go bad, this is like a last line of defense against possible grave danger to the body.

This mechanism of dystrophic calcification also happens in the case of medical implants as well, so doctors have to keep this in mind when implanting various equipment.

A rise in the level of calcium can cause metastatic calcification. This is like dystrophic calcification, but this happens to regular healthy tissue without cause.

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