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Health Library : Endocrinology



What is hyperparathyroidism?

The parathyroid glands are tiny glands. Each one is about the size of a grain of rice. They are located in the neck, next to the thyroid gland but completely separate from it. They are responsible for keeping the amount of calcium in your blood in a normal range. Hyperparathyroidism is caused by one or more than one overactive parathyroid gland. Overactive parathyroid glands produce too much parathyroid hormone (PTH), which in turn stimulates increased levels of calcium in the bloodstream.

This excess calcium happens because the PTH causes calcium to be released from your bones. This loss of calcium from the bones can lead to osteoporosis, osteopenia, and bone fracture. As the blood containing this high calcium goes through the kidneys, the calcium may be filtered into the urine and lead to kidney stones.

Hyperparathyroidism is usually the result of a benign enlargement of a parathyroid gland that produces too much PTH. Most people with hyperparathyroidism have one abnormal gland. A small number of people may have two abnormal glands at the same time, and some people have all abnormal glands. Having four glands involves is rare, and it is usually due to a hereditary problem.

What are symptoms of hyperparathyroidism?

The following are the most common symptoms of hyperparathyroidism. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Joint aches and pains
  • Depression
  • Abdominal pain
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Peptic ulcer disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive urination
  • Confusion
  • Muscle weakness
  • Osteoporosis
  • Kidney stones

The symptoms of hyperparathyroidism may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is hyperparathyroidism diagnosed?

Hyperparathyroidism is usually found by noticing an elevated calcium level on routine blood testing. Blood tests include measuring levels of calcium and PTH. Urine tests measure urine for calcium across 24 hours.

How is hyperparathyroidism treated?

The only treatment for hyperparathyroidism is removal of the abnormal parathyroid gland. Before surgery, an imaging test may be used to find out which parathyroid is abnormal. Ultrasound of the neck can be very effective in finding the abnormal parathyroid. Sestamibi scanning is another test that may be used. Knowing which parathyroid gland is abnormal will help keep the operation as quick and focused as possible.

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