The parathyroids are four tiny glands usually found in the neck, next to the thyroid gland. They control calcium balance in the body. When blood calcium levels fall too low, these glands make a hormone to restore normal calcium levels. This hormone is named parathyroid hormone (PTH). Hyperparathyroidism means that the parathyroid glands are too active, and people have high blood calcium levels. Untreated hyperparathyroidism can lead to osteoporosis, kidney stones, high blood pressure, inflammation (swelling) of the pancreas, or stomach ulcers.
About 100,000 people per year are diagnosed with hyperparathyroidism, twice as many females as males.
Most people (85%) have a benign (not cancerous) parathyroid gland tumor (adenoma). Others may have enlarged parathyroid glands (hyperplasia). Rarely, the cause is cancer. Aging increases the risk. Some people have disorders related to other endocrine conditions.
People may have no symptoms. Some may feel weak, tired, and depressed or have muscle aches and joint pains. They may have less appetite, nausea, vomiting, constipation, confusion, or frequent urination and thirst.
The health care provider makes a diagnosis by measuring blood levels of calcium and PTH. High levels of both confirm the diagnosis.
A parathyroid gland tumor is best removed surgically. Only people with high calcium levels, bothersome symptoms, or possible cancer need surgery. Surgery cures 95% of people. Complications of surgery include low calcium level, bleeding, and infection. The low calcium level that occurs may be temporary or permanent. Many doctors suggest taking calcium and vitamin D supplements.
The health care provider may just watch people with enlarged parathyroids and monitor them with frequent measurement of blood calcium levels. In an emergency (a very high calcium level), intravenous fluids and medicines may be given to lower the levels.
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