Parathyroid disease is a common endocrine gland disorder. It’s caused by levels of parathyroid hormone (PTH) in your body that are too low or too high. This affects the level of calcium in your blood. Usually, this disease happens when the glands secrete PTH levels that are too high. This is called hyperparathyroidism. In this article, you’ll learn about the symptoms of parathyroid disease and how it’s diagnosed. You’ll also find out about the simple and effective treatments that are available.
What Are Parathyroid Glands?
Your four parathyroid glands are located around your thyroid gland, in a bowtie shape at the base of your neck. They’re about the size of a grain of rice. The hormone they secrete, PTH, regulates levels of the minerals calcium and phosphorus in your body’s blood stream.
Calcium is important for the development of strong bones and teeth, and it regulates heart function. It also helps maintain healthy operation of nerves and muscles. Vitamin D has an important role in increasing the body’s uptake of calcium. It improves the body’s ability to absorb calcium. Phosphorus works along with calcium to keep structures and processes normal.
What Are Parathyroid Disorders?
Hyperparathyroidism happens when PTH levels are too high. When levels are too high, your body thinks it needs to make more calcium available to tissues. Your body responds by trying to increase calcium levels in the blood. It does this by taking calcium from existing calcium sources like your bones.
Hyperparathyroid disease is called primary when it arises directly from gland problems. This can happen because of genetic defects or because a growth on the gland causes it to malfunction. Most cases occur after age 50; women are three times more likely to be affected than men. In secondary hyperparathyroidism, the disease happens when other body functions aren’t working properly and indirectly cause the gland to produce too much hormone.
Chronic kidney disease is the most common cause of secondary hyperparathyroidism. One of the kidneys’ roles is to help convert dietary vitamin D into a form the body can use. When kidney disease develops, usable vitamin D levels decrease. With less vitamin D, blood calcium levels also decrease. This triggers the glands to try to compensate by making more PTH. Secondary hyperparathyroidism can also occur when your diet is severely low in calcium or vitamin D.
What Are the Symptoms of Hyperparathyroid Problems?
Symptoms usually result from damage that occurs to other parts of the body because of high levels of calcium in the blood or urine or too little calcium in the bones. Hyperparathyroid symptoms include:
- kidney disease
- too much urination
- abdominal pain
- weakness or tiring easily
- depression or forgetfulness
- joint pain
- frequent illnesses with no apparent cause
- nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite
How Do Doctors Check for Hyperparathyroid Problems?
Doctors diagnose hyperparathyroidism by routine blood sampling, often before actual symptoms begin. It’s usually detected by blood samples that show high PTH and high calcium levels in the blood. Your doctors may want to see if your disease is due to secondary causes like osteoporosis or chronic kidney disease. To do this, they may order a bone density scan or 24-hour urine calcium test. Your doctor may also order a scan for kidney stones.
Next Steps If You Have High Parathyroid Hormone
For primary hyperparathyroidism, treatment includes repeated testing, if your PTH levels aren’t too abnormal and you have no symptoms. If your PTH levels are too high, the usual treatment is surgery to remove any abnormal growths on the glands.
If there is no abnormal growth, your surgeon may recommend removal of most of the four glands. A small portion of one gland is usually left in place. Parathyroid surgery is simple and can usually be done without a hospital stay.
If you have secondary hyperparathyroidism, treatment will depend on why your disease is happening. Your doctors may recommend calcium or vitamin D supplements. They may prescribe drugs that regulate blood calcium levels or treat osteoporosis, like estrogen replacement therapy or Fosamax.
Fortunately, parathyroid disease is often discovered by routine blood testing before you have symptoms. Treatments, including calcium and vitamin D supplements, prescribed medicines, and surgery, are highly effective.