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Hyperphosphatemia Clinical Presentation

  • Author: Eleanor Lederer, MD, FASN; Chief Editor: Vecihi Batuman, MD, FACP, FASN  more...
Updated: Dec 16, 2015


Typically, most patients with hyperphosphatemia are asymptomatic. Signs and symptoms of acute hyperphosphatemia result from the effects of hypocalcemia, with patients occasionally reporting symptoms such as muscle cramps, tetany, and perioral numbness or tingling. Other symptoms include bone and joint pain, pruritus, and rash.

More commonly, patients report symptoms related to the underlying cause of the hyperphosphatemia, generally uremic symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, anorexia, nausea, vomiting, and sleep disturbances.

Therefore, information related to the causes of hyperphosphatemia, such as a history of diabetes mellitus or hypertension (causes of renal failure), a history of neck surgery or irradiation (causes of hypoparathyroidism), or a history of excessive vitamin D or milk ingestion, is important to obtain.

A search for the following historical clues may help to identify patients who are at risk for increased phosphorus levels:

  • Kidney disease: Past or present hemodialysis; adherence to renal (low phosphorus) diet; use of oral phosphate binders
  • Cancer: Leukemia, lymphoma, bone tumors, other cancers, chemotherapy treatment
  • Endocrinopathies (hypoparathyroidism and pseudohypoparathyroidism)
  • Trauma
  • Burns or heat-related illnesses
  • Prolonged immobilization
  • Metabolic or hematologic disorders, including genetic predisposition
  • Ischemic bowel (possible phosphorus elevations)

The patient’s medication history with regard to the following should also be obtained:

  • Oral phosphate binders
  • Potassium phosphate
  • Antacids
  • Bisphosphonates
  • Laxatives (oral/rectal) and enemas [38]
  • Nutritional supplements or hyperalimentation

Physical Examination

No aspects of the physical examination are specific to or pathognomonic of hyperphosphatemia. If the hyperphosphatemia is acute, especially if it is due to parenteral phosphate administration, the patient may be hypotensive or exhibit signs of hypocalcemia, such as a positive Trousseau or Chvostek sign, hyperreflexia, carpopedal spasm, or seizure.

Cataracts can be an ocular sign of hyperphosphatemia, but the cardiovascular (hypotension and heart failure, prolongation of the QT interval) and nervous systems are the most commonly affected by the condition.

Central nervous system (CNS) and neuromuscular signs and symptoms in patients with hyperphosphatemia include the following:

  • Altered mental status
  • Delirium
  • Obtundation
  • Coma
  • Convulsions and seizures
  • Muscle cramping or tetany
  • Neuromuscular hyperexcitability (ie, Chvostek and Trousseau signs)
  • Paresthesias (particularly perioral and distal extremities)
Contributor Information and Disclosures

Eleanor Lederer, MD, FASN Professor of Medicine, Chief, Nephrology Division, Director, Nephrology Training Program, Director, Metabolic Stone Clinic, Kidney Disease Program, University of Louisville School of Medicine; Consulting Staff, Louisville Veterans Affairs Hospital

Eleanor Lederer, MD, FASN is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Advancement of Science, International Society of Nephrology, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, American Federation for Medical Research, American Society for Bone and Mineral Research, American Society of Nephrology, American Society of Transplantation, Kentucky Medical Association, National Kidney Foundation, Phi Beta Kappa

Disclosure: Received grant/research funds from Dept of Veterans Affairs for research; Received salary from American Society of Nephrology for asn council position; Received salary from University of Louisville for employment; Received salary from University of Louisville Physicians for employment; Received contract payment from American Physician Institute for Advanced Professional Studies, LLC for independent contractor; Received contract payment from Healthcare Quality Strategies, Inc for independent cont.


Rosemary Ouseph, MD Professor of Medicine, Director of Kidney Transplant, University of Louisville School of Medicine

Rosemary Ouseph, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Society for Bone and Mineral Research, American Society of Nephrology, American Society of Transplant Surgeons

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Vibha Nayak, MD Assistant Professor of Nephrology, Director of Home Dialysis, Kidney Disease Program, University of Louisville School of Medicine

Vibha Nayak, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Society of Nephrology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Vecihi Batuman, MD, FACP, FASN Huberwald Professor of Medicine, Section of Nephrology-Hypertension, Tulane University School of Medicine; Chief, Renal Section, Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System

Vecihi Batuman, MD, FACP, FASN is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians, American Society of Hypertension, American Society of Nephrology, International Society of Nephrology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Jeffrey L Arnold, MD, FACEP Chairman, Department of Emergency Medicine, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center

Jeffrey L Arnold, MD, FACEP is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine and American College of Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose. Andrew J Dailey, MD Fellow, Department of Medicine, Division of Nephrology, University of Louisville School of Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Stephanie Dianne Hill Dailey, MD Fellow, Department of Medicine, Division of Nephrology, University of Louisville School of Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Peter MC DeBlieux, MD Professor of Clinical Medicine and Pediatrics, Section of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Program Director, Department of Emergency Medicine, Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans

Peter MC DeBlieux, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Emergency Physicians, American Medical Association, Radiological Society of North America, and Society of Critical Care Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Robin R Hemphill, MD, MPH Associate Professor, Director, Quality and Safety, Department of Emergency Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine

Robin R Hemphill, MD, MPH is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians and Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Leigh A Patterson, MD Assistant Professor, Residency Director, Department of Emergency Medicine, Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University

Leigh A Patterson, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, American Medical Association, and Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Erik D Schraga, MD Staff Physician, Department of Emergency Medicine, Mills-Peninsula Emergency Medical Associates

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Medscape Salary Employment

Christie P Thomas, MBBS, FRCP, FASN, FAHA Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Nephrology, Departments of Pediatrics and Obstetrics and Gynecology, Medical Director, Kidney and Kidney/Pancreas Transplant Program, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics

Christie P Thomas, MBBS, FRCP, FASN, FAHA is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians, American Heart Association, American Society of Nephrology, and Royal College of Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Approximately 60-70% of dietary phosphate, 1000-1500 mg/day, is absorbed in the small intestine. Although vitamin D can enhance the absorption, especially under conditions of dietary phosphate depletion, intestinal phosphate absorption does not require the presence of active vitamin D. Specifically, high serum phosphate and high dietary phosphate intake do not significantly impair intestinal uptake. The movement of phosphate in and out of bone, the reservoir containing most of the total body phosphate, is generally balanced. Renal excretion of excess dietary phosphate intake ensures maintenance of phosphate homeostasis, maintaining serum phosphate at a level of approximately 3-4 mg/dL in the serum.
The vast majority of filtered phosphate is reabsorbed by type 2a sodium phosphate cotransporters located on the apical membrane of the renal proximal tubule. The expression of these cotransporters is increased by low dietary phosphate intake and several growth factors to enhance phosphate absorption. The expression is decreased by high dietary phosphate intake, parathyroid hormone (PTH), FGF23, and dopamine. Phosphate absorption in the remainder of the nephron is generally mediated by type 3 sodium phosphate cotransporters. No direct evidence has been found related to the regulation of these transporters in renal cells under physiologic conditions. The absorption in the proximal tubule is regulated such that the final excretion matches the dietary excess in order to maintain homeostasis.
Hyperphosphatemia inhibits 1-alpha hydroxylase in the proximal tubule directly and indirectly through stimulation of FGF23, thus inhibiting the conversion of 25-hydroxy vitamin D3 to the active metabolite, 1,25 dihydroxyvitamin D3. FGF23 additionally increases the expression of 24-hydroxylase, leading to inactivation of active 1,25 dihydroxyvitamin D3. The decrease in active vitamin D production with high phosphate is somewhat offset by the ability of hyperphosphatemia to stimulate the secretion of parathyroid hormone (PTH), which will increase the activity of 1-alpha hydroxylase. The result is generally a neutral effect on intestinal phosphate absorption. Hyperphosphatemia-stimulated PTH secretion is mediated through an as yet unidentified pathway. With normal renal function, the transient increase in PTH and decrease in vitamin D serve to inhibit renal and intestinal absorption of phosphate, resulting in resolution of the hyperphosphatemia. In contrast, under conditions of renal failure, sustained hyperphosphatemia results in sustained hyperparathyroidism. The hyperparathyroidism enhances renal phosphate excretion but also enhances bone resorption, releasing more phosphate into the serum. As renal failure progresses and the ability of the kidney to excrete phosphate continues to diminish, the action of PTH on the bone can exacerbate the already present hyperphosphatemia.
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