Four pea-sized glands on the neck sitting right on top of the thyroid gland are called parathyroid glands. Even though their names may seem similar, the parathyroid and thyroid glands have different functions. The main function of parathyroid glands is to make parathyroid hormone (PTH). The parathyroid hormone helps keep the right balance of calcium in our body.
There are three types of parathyroid diseases - hyperparathyroidism, hypoparathyroidism, and parathyroid cancer. The most common type of parathyroid disease is hyperparathyroidism. This condition occurs if your parathyroid glands secrete parathyroid hormone excessively, causing the levels of calcium in your blood to rise.
On the other hand, if the parathyroid hormone's secretion is lower than the required levels, it will lead to low levels of calcium in your blood and cause hypoparathyroidism. In some cases, it is also possible that a benign tumor situated on a parathyroid gland makes it overactive and bigger in size. Very rarely, this can be due to parathyroid cancer.
Depending on the parathyroid disease you are suffering from, your symptoms may also vary. The most prevalent symptoms of hyperparathyroidism are:
If left untreated, it can also lead to more severe symptoms such as:
Parathyroid disease is usually diagnosed by testing the levels of calcium and parathyroid hormone in your blood. Once the diagnosis is completed, your doctor may advise some more tests to check any other possible causes. This will also help assess the severity of the condition. These tests may usually include bone densitometry, an ultrasound scan of the kidneys, and a 25-hydroxy-vitamin D blood test.
Treatment options for the parathyroid disease include monitoring, medication, dietary supplements, and surgery. Surgery is the most effective option to treat the disease. It involves removing overactive parathyroid glands and can be performed either in a minimally invasive way or by a standard neck exploration.
Even though potential complications from this surgery are rare, some patients may experience damage to the nerves controlling their vocal cords after the surgery, and it may affect how they speak. Also, once the surgery is successfully completed, the patients may need to take calcium and vitamin D medications so that their blood calcium levels remain normal.
On the other hand, if you have a mild primary parathyroid disease, you may only need proper monitoring. Monitoring usually consists of carrying out bone density measurements, physical exams, blood tests for calcium levels, and kidney function tests from time to time.
For more information on parathyroid disease and its treatment, contact us.