Parathyroid Surgery

Parathyroid Surgery Part 1: Why You Need Parathyroid Surgery

Has your doctor just recommended that you have parathyroid surgery? If so, you likely have many questions. What are the parathyroid glands? And why is surgery needed? Along with information provided by your doctor, this booklet can help you learn more about parathyroid surgery. It can also help address any questions and concerns you have.

A Problem with the Parathyroid Glands

The parathyroid glands are four tiny glands located in the neck. These glands control the level of calcium in the blood. The most common problem that affects the parathyroid glands is called hyperparathyroidism. This occurs when one or more of the glands is too active, causing a high blood calcium level. Hyperparathyroidism can lead to serious health problems throughout the body, but it can be treated.

What Causes Hyperparathyroidism?

Hyperparathyroidism most often occurs when one parathyroid gland becomes enlarged. This is almost always because of a benign (noncancerous) growth called an adenoma. In some cases, more than one parathyroid gland becomes enlarged.

Risk Factors for Hyperparathyroidism 

Anyone can get hyperparathyroidism. It is more common in women than men. The chance of developing hyperparathyroidism also increases with age. Some factors make the problem more likely. These are known as risk factors. Risk factors for hyperparathyroidism include:

  • Having parents or siblings with hyperparathyroidism
  • Getting too little vitamin D in the diet
  • Having certain kidney problems
  • Taking certain medications
  • Having had radiation to the head or neck

Symptoms of Hyperparathyroidism

Most people with hyperparathyroidism don’t know they have it. This is because symptoms of this problem can be very mild or are very similar to those of other health problems. Hyperparathyroidism can cause any of the symptoms below:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Depression
  • Tiredness
  • Poor memory
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain in the stomach area (abdomen)
  • Hard stools (constipation)
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Needing to urinate often
  • Kidney stones
  • Joint or bone pain
  • Bone disease (osteopenia or osteoporosis)

What You Can Do

If hyperparathyroidism is not treated, it may get worse over time. Treatment is surgery to remove any enlarged parathyroid glands. This helps restore the level of calcium in the blood to normal. Your doctor will discuss your condition with you and explain the risks and benefits of surgery.

The Parathyroid Glands Versus the Thyroid Gland

The parathyroid glands and the thyroid gland are next to each other in the neck. They sound similar in name, but they have different jobs in the body. If there is a problem with the parathyroid glands, it does not mean that there is a problem with the thyroid gland. The reverse is also true.

To learn and understand the Parathyroid glands, read Parathyroid Surgery Part 2: Understanding the Parathyroid Glands

To learn about the Parathyroid surgery evaluation, surgery and recovery, read Parathyroid Surgery Part 3: Evaluation, Surgery, Recovery

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