Thyroid & Parathyroid

Though they share similar names, the thyroid and parathyroid glands are unrelated and have very different functions. The thyroid gland is responsible for producing hormones that regulate the body’s metabolism, while the parathyroid glands make parathyroid hormone (PTH) that regulates the amount of calcium in the body.

Parathyroid Disorders

The parathyroid glands are tiny endocrine glands located in the neck behind the thyroid. There are four of them, and they are about the size of a grain of rice. They regulate calcium, which is used to provide energy for our nervous and muscular systems, and give strength to our skeletal system.

Approximately 1 in 700 people will develop a parathyroid gland tumor, which is usually benign but often causes hyperparathyroidism. This condition causes the gland to secrete an overabundance of PTH hormone, leading to excess calcium in the blood. This can cause a wide variety of symptoms including osteoporosis, loss of energy, kidney stones, abdominal pain, tiring easily, depression, lack of concentration, pain in the bones and joints, nausea, and vomiting. Causes range from noncancerous growths called adenomas to enlarged glands, tumors, kidney failure, and calcium or vitamin D deficiency.

At the other end of the spectrum is hypoparathyroidism, a condition in which the glands secrete too little PTH hormone. The leads to low calcium levels in the blood and an increase in phosphorous. Signs include tingling or burning in your fingertips, toes, and lips; muscle aches and cramps; muscle spasms around the mouth and in the hands, arms, and throats; fatigue; weakness; dry skin; anxiety; headaches; depression; mood swings; and forgetfulness. There are a number of possible causes including surgical removal of the parathyroid glands, hereditary factors, autoimmune diseases, radiation treatment for cancer, and low levels of magnesium in the blood.

Treating Parathyroid Gland Disorders

The goal of treatment for parathyroid gland disorders is to restore the proper balance of calcium and phosphorous in the body.

Surgery is the most common treatment for hyperparathyroidism, and is successful in 90% of all cases. A surgeon removes only the affected glands, leaving behind some functioning tissue. The surgery is often performed on an outpatient basis and complications are few. Medications may also be used to treat the condition.

Hypothyroidism is usually treated with calcium supplements and vitamin D. In severe cases, intravenous infusions may be required. Changes to the diet are often recommended, including eating foods rich in calcium and low in phosphorous.