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an excess of phosphates in the blood.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.


Abnormally high concentration of phosphates in the circulating blood.
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012


An abnormally high concentration of phosphates in the blood.
The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


Nephrology↑ Phosphate > 1.5 mmol/L–US: 4.5 mg/dL in blood Etiology ↑ hGH, either physiologic with growth spurts or pathologic in gigantism and acromegaly, ↓ PTH, pseudohypoparathyroidism or in renal failure
McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


Elevation of phosphorus concentration in blood; may be due to consumption of large amounts of phosphorus-rich foods and drinks or to renal insufficiency. It may also be caused by hypocalcemia, hyperparathyroidism, or overuse of phosphate-containing laxatives or antacids. With concurrent hypocalcemia, tetany and seizures may occur.
Synonym(s): hyperphosphataemia.
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012


DRG Category:642
Mean LOS:4.6 days
Description:MEDICAL: Inborn and Other Disorders of Metabolism

Phosphorus is one of the primary intracellular ions in the body. It is found as both organic phosphorus and inorganic phosphorus salts. Phosphate plays a critical role in all of the body’s tissues. It is an important structural element in the bones and is essential to the function of muscle, red blood cells, and the nervous system. It is responsible for bone growth and interacts with hemoglobin in the red blood cells, promoting oxygen release to the body’s tissues. Phosphate is responsible for promotion of white blood cell phagocytic action and is important in platelet structure and function. It also acts as a buffering agent for urine. In one of its most important roles, phosphate is critical for the production of adenosine triphosphate, the chief energy source of the body. Approximately 85% of body phosphorus is in bone, and most of the remainder is intracellular; only 1% is in the extracellular fluid.

Normal serum phosphate levels are 2.5 to 4.5 mg/dL, whereas intracellular phosphorus levels are as high as 300 mg/dL. Hyperphosphatemia occurs when serum phosphorus levels exceed 4.5 mg/dL. It is rare in the general population, but in patients with renal insufficiency or acute or chronic renal failure, the rate of hyperphosphatemia is approximately 70%. Phosphorus is absorbed primarily in the jejunum from foods such as red meats, fish, poultry, eggs, and milk products. Phosphate is regulated by the kidneys; 90% of phosphate excretion occurs by the renal route and 10% by the fecal route. Phosphate is also regulated by vitamin D and by parathyroid hormone. Phosphorus levels are inversely related to calcium levels.


The primary cause of hyperphosphatemia is decreased phosphorus excretion because of renal insufficiency or renal failure (acute or chronic). Decreased phosphate excretion also occurs with hypoparathyroidism. Decreased parathyroid activity leads to decreased calcium concentration and increased phosphorus concentration. Increased serum phosphorus absorption may also occur with increased intake of vitamin D or excessive quantities of milk. An increased intake of phosphorus or phosphorus-containing medications, such as enemas, laxatives, or antacids, can cause substantial absorption of phosphorus. Blood transfusions may also cause increased levels of phosphorus because phosphate leaks from the blood cells during storage. Phosphates may be released in excessive quantities in patients who are receiving chemotherapy for neoplastic diseases. Muscle necrosis because of trauma, viral infections, or heat stroke may also cause hyperphosphatemia because muscle tissues store the bulk of soft-tissue phosphates.

Genetic considerations

Hyperphosphatemia can be seen as a feature of familial endocrine abnormalities, such as familial tumoral calcinosis with hyperphosphatemia. Mutations in the GALNT3 gene cause hyperostosis with hyperphosphatemia (HHS). There is an autosomal dominantly transmitted form of hypoparathyroidism with variable expressivity that includes high phosphate with low calcium and magnesium levels.

Gender, ethnic/racial, and life span considerations

Serum levels of phosphate are normally higher (3.5 to 5.5 mg/dL) in children because of the increased rate of skeletal growth. Infants who are fed cow’s milk or formula may develop hyperphosphatemia because cow’s milk contains more phosphorus (940 mg/L) than human milk (150 mg/L). The most common cause, renal failure, occurs across the life span and in both sexes. Women have a slight but nonclinical elevation of serum phosphate levels after menopause. While hyperphosphatemia has no racial or ethnic predilection, African Americans, people of Hispanic origin, and Native Americans have a disproportionately high prevalence of renal failure, which can result in hyperphosphatemia.

Global health considerations

Experts suggest that rates of hyperphosphatemia parallel those of renal failure around the world.



Generally, patients with increased serum phosphorus levels exhibit signs and symptoms associated with hypocalcemia. Ask about a current history of chronic laxative or enema use, excess antacid use, and increased intake of foods containing large amounts of phosphorus (dried beans and peas, eggs, fish, meats, milk, nuts). Note if the patient has been admitted for massive burns or trauma, acute pancreatitis, acute or chronic renal failure, neoplastic disorders, or hypoparathyroidism.

Tetany, a condition that leads to increased neural excitability, may develop. Determine if the patient has experienced tingling in the fingertips or around the mouth. As tetany progresses, tingling may progress up the limbs and around the face and increase in intensity from tingling to numbness followed by pain accompanied by muscle spasm. Tetany is more common in patients who have taken an increased phosphorus load by diet or through medication. It is less likely in the renal patient because calcium ionization is increased in the presence of acidosis.

Physical examination

An elevated serum phosphorus level causes few signs or symptoms. Long-term consequences may involve soft-tissue calcification for the patient with chronic renal failure resulting from precipitation of calcium phosphates in nonosseous sites, often the kidney, liver, and lungs. Other nonosseous sites may include arteries, joints, skin, or the corneas. Tetany may account for the majority of signs and symptoms because of hypocalcemia. Check for Trousseau’s (development of carpal spasm when a blood pressure cuff is inflated above systolic pressure for 3 minutes) and Chvostek’s (twitching facial muscles when the facial nerve is tapped anterior to the ear) signs.


Hyperphosphatemia is most often associated with other chronic problems, such as renal failure, hypoparathyroidism, or chemotherapy for neoplastic diseases. Assess the patient’s ability to cope with a serious disease and evaluate the patient’s social network for available support and coping abilities.

Diagnostic highlights

TestNormal ResultAbnormality With ConditionExplanation
Serum phosphorus2.5–4.5 mg/dL> 4.5 mg/dL (adults); > 5.5 mg/dL (children); critical value: > 5 mg/dL in adultsReflects phosphorus excess
Serum calcium8.6–10.3 mg/dL< 8.5 mg/dLReflects calcium deficit
Serum ionized calcium (free calcium)4.5–5.1 mg/dL< 4.5 mg/dLReflects ionized calcium (46%–50% of circulating calcium)

Other Tests: Electrocardiogram, blood urea nitrogen, creatinine

Primary nursing diagnosis


Alteration in nutrition: More than body requirements related to increased vitamin D or phosphorus intake


Nutritional status: Food and fluid intake; Nutrient intake; Knowledge: Medication, Treatment regimen


Electrolyte management: Hyperphosphatemia; Fluid balance; Electrolyte management: Hypocalcemia; Medication administration; Medication management; Surveillance

Planning and implementation


Medical treatment is aimed at managing the underlying disease process. If the hyperphosphatemia is caused by excessive phosphate administration in medications, elimination or substitution of the products remedies the problem. In some cases, pharmacologic agents, such as aluminum hydroxide, are used. In some instances, hemodialysis is needed to control the excess phosphate levels. Because hyperphosphatemia can impair kidney function, the physician monitors the patient’s renal function carefully.

Adequate levels of phosphorus are easily maintained by a normal diet because phosphorus is abundant in many foods, including red meat, poultry, eggs, vegetables, hard cheese, cream, nuts, cereals such as bran or oatmeal, dried fruits, and desserts made with milk. These foods may need to be restricted in the diet when patients have increased levels of phosphorus because of chronic diseases. Because the most common dietary factor causing hyperphosphatemia is vitamin D, it is often temporarily eliminated from the diet. A referral to a dietitian can help the patient with menu alternatives.

Pharmacologic highlights

Medication or Drug ClassDosageDescriptionRationale
Acetazolamide (Diamox)250–375 mg PO/IV dailyDiuretic carbonic anhydrase inhibitor
  • Increases renal excretion of phosphorus
  • Note: Furosemide (Lasix) may also be used to increase renal excretion of phosphate
Phosphate-binding agents (aluminum-containing binders are no longer prescribed because of the toxic effects of aluminum)Varies with drugSevelamer hydrochloride (Renagel); lanthanum carbonate (Fosrenol); sucroferric osyhudroxide (Velphoro); calcium acetate, calcium carbonateCause phosphate binding in the gastrointestinal tract, thereby decreasing serum phosphate levels

Other Drugs: Calcium supplements to prevent tetany


Identify patients at risk for hyperphosphatemia. If those patients develop any signs of tetany (tingling sensations, numbness, or muscle spasms and cramps), notify the physician immediately because airway compromise from laryngospasm is a potential complication.

Teach patients at risk for phosphorus imbalances to use care in choosing over-the-counter medications such as antacids, laxatives, and enemas. Patients should learn to read medication ingredients and check with the healthcare provider about any questions regarding the phosphorus content of medications. Make sure the patient understands the mechanism of action of phosphate binders. Stress the need to take phosphate binders with or after meals to maximize their effectiveness. Explain that phosphate-binding medications may lead to constipation. Encourage the patient to use bulk-building supplements or stool softeners if constipation occurs.

Evidence-Based Practice and Health Policy

Foley, R.N., Collins, A.J., Herzog, C.A., Ishani, A., & Kalra, P.A. (2009). Serum phosphorus levels associate with coronary atherosclerosis in young adults. Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, 20(2), 397–404.

  • Investigators conducted a 15-year prospective study among 3,015 healthy young adults to determine the effects of phosphorus on cardiovascular risk and found that each 0.5-mg/dL increase in phosphorus levels at baseline was associated with a 13% decreased risk of coronary artery calcification (95% CI, 0.77 to 0.99; p = 0.0332). The mean phosphorus level for the entire sample at baseline was 3.6 mg/dL (SD, ± 0.5 mg/dL; range, 1.3 to 5.7 mg/dL).
  • In this sample, 3.2% had minimal coronary artery calcification, 4.8% had mild calcification, 1.1% had moderate calcification, and 0.5% had severe calcification at year 15.

Documentation guidelines

  • Physical response: Signs of tetany (tingling sensations, numbness, muscle spasms, or cramps)
  • Phosphate levels
  • Emotional response to chronic illness

Discharge and home healthcare guidelines

Teach the patient to avoid the use of over-the-counter medications that contain phosphorus, such as certain enemas, antacids, or laxatives. Instruct the patient to avoid foods high in phosphorus and vitamin D. Teach the patient to recognize signs of low calcium. Notify the patient of the next appointment with the healthcare provider.

Diseases and Disorders, © 2011 Farlex and Partners


Abnormally high concentration of phosphates in the circulating blood.
Synonym(s): hyperphosphataemia.
Medical Dictionary for the Dental Professions © Farlex 2012
References in periodicals archive ?
* Ardelyx Inc (NASDAQ: ARDX) (reported positive results from a late-stage of its lead compound tenapanor in combination with phosphate binders to treat hyperphosphatemia in patients with chronic kidney disease on dialysis)
Ardelyx reported results from AMPLIFY, a pivotal Phase 3 study of tenapanor in combination with phosphate binders in patients with chronic kidney disease, or CKD, on dialysis whose hyperphosphatemia was not previously controlled with binders alone.
KEYWORDS: Tumor lysis syndrome, hyperuricemia, hyperphosphatemia, hypocalcemia, acute kidney injury.
Iron Overload: Increases in serum ferritin and transferrin saturation (TSAT) were observed in clinical trials with AURYXIA in patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) on dialysis treated for hyperphosphatemia, which may lead to excessive elevations in iron stores.
Auryxia is the only oral iron tablet approved in the US to treat non-dialysis-dependent-chronic kidney disease adult patients for iron deficiency anemia, and dialysis-dependent CKD adult patients for hyperphosphatemia.
Sodium phosphate enemas and some rodenticides can also cause hyperphosphatemia. Hyperthyroidism in cats may cause an increase in phosphate, as thyroxin (thyroid hormone) can interfere with renal clearance of phosphate.
Patients with HFTC usually present with hyperphosphatemia and tumor-like soft tissue calcifications.
M2 EQUITYBITES-February 8, 2019-Ardelyx Inc begins Phase 2 clinical study of tenapanor for the treatment of hyperphosphatemia dialysis patients in Japan
Global Banking News-February 8, 2019-Ardelyx Inc begins Phase 2 clinical study of tenapanor for the treatment of hyperphosphatemia dialysis patients in Japan
Keryx's Auryxia (ferric citrate) is a US Food and Drug Administration -approved medicine to treat dialysis dependent CKD patients for hyperphosphatemia and non-dialysis dependent CKD patients for iron deficiency anemia.
According to the K/DOQI guidelines, we considered hypocalcemia as a total serum calcium level of <8.4 mg/dl, hyperphosphatemia as a serum phosphorus level of >5.5 mg/L, and high iPTH as a serum iPTH level of >300 pg/ml.[5] Associated parameters were compared between the two groups, and then overall data in Hebei province were compared to those reported in DOPPS4[6],[7] and Chinese DOPPS.[8]
PHP is a rare condition characterized by a biochemical pattern of hypocalcemia, hyperphosphatemia, and increased PTH concentrations (2).