Calcium plays an essential role in our body, but when a parathyroid disease attacks the gland that controls calcium regulation — the parathyroid gland — hyperparathyroidism occurs. That’s why calcium regulation in our body should be taken seriously.
Read on to find out more about hyperparathyroidism.
In this article:
- Hyperparathyroidism Prevalence
- How Does the Parathyroid Gland Function?
- How Does the Parathyroid Increase Calcium in the Blood?
- What Is Hyperparathyroidism?
- How Does It Occur?
- What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Hyperparathyroidism?
- What Are the Risk Factors of Hyperparathyroidism?
- How Is Hyperparathyroidism Diagnosed?
- What Are the Parathyroid Disease Treatment Options?
- What Are the Complications of Hyperparathyroidism?
- Is Hyperparathyroidism Preventable?
- Can Hyperparathyroidism Cause Weight Loss?
- Is Parathyroid Disease Cancerous?
- Can You Live Comfortably If You Remove One of the Parathyroid Glands?
- Is It Best to Wait First and See What Happens If You Are Diagnosed with Hyperparathyroidism?
- What Happens to Your Calcium Levels After Parathyroid Surgery?
- Should You Take Calcium for Years to Get Strong Bones Again?
Hyperparathyroidism: A Common Parathyroid Disease
This condition is the leading disorder of the parathyroid gland. It is when the gland produces an excessive amount of parathyroid hormones (PTHs), resulting in a serious calcium imbalance.
The parathyroid disease affects all age groups but is most common in adults aged 40-75 years. Hyperparathyroidism is also more common among women than men.
Below are the most frequently asked questions and answers you might be looking for about hyperparathyroidism.
How Does the Parathyroid Gland Function?
The primary purpose of the parathyroid gland is to manage calcium levels in the blood, between 8.5 and 10.5 mg/dL. The organ also controls how much calcium should be in the bones, which determines how dense or strong the bones are.
Although the parathyroid is related to the thyroid gland, it does not have any related function.
When the blood goes through the parathyroid gland, the organ filters it and determines how much calcium is in there. The activity makes the parathyroid react by releasing more or fewer PTHs.
When calcium is too low, parathyroid cells sense it, and the organ produces more hormones and releases them into the blood. The hormones then circulate in different places in the body to raise calcium in the blood.
When there is too much calcium, parathyroid cells release fewer hormones, which lowers calcium as well.
How Does the Parathyroid Increase Calcium in the Blood?
When parathyroid hormones are present in the blood, the bones give up calcium to help increase the nutrient. If there are too many hormones, the bones continue to give calcium that makes them deficient in the nutrient.
This can lead to bone problems like osteoporosis, which is having larger pores in the bones with less bone mass. If there is too much exposure to high parathyroid hormone levels for years, the bones become brittle and prone to fractures.
The parathyroid hormone can also increase calcium in the blood through the intestines. The hormones allow more effective absorption of calcium from your diet through the lining of the intestine.
What Is Hyperparathyroidism?
Hyperparathyroidism is when one or more parathyroid glands become overactive and releases an excess of PTH. Usually, a parathyroid gland malfunction is caused by an adenoma, which is a benign tumor of the parathyroid.
Parathyroid glands are located behind the thyroid gland and control calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood. They are responsible for regulating how much calcium should be taken from the bones, received in the intestines, and wasted in the urine.
When there is an excess secretion of parathyroid hormone, the level of calcium in the blood rises. This condition is called hypercalcemia.
Calcium is a crucial mineral needed by our system for bone health and general cell function. It is important to keep the level of calcium in our blood within a specific range to ensure cells are healthy and optimized for functionality.
The parathyroid is the gland that secretes the hormone responsible for its regulation and maintains calcium balance.
How Does It Occur?
Hyperparathyroidism is divided into two categories: primary and secondary.
Primary hyperparathyroidism occurs when the parathyroid gland continuously creates an extreme amount of PTHs. This causes the calcium level in the blood to rise.
Although the cause of this is not fully understood, when a benign or noncancerous growth forms on a single parathyroid gland, it causes it to become overactive. When two or more parathyroid gland becomes enlarged, this condition is called hyperplasia.
Secondary hyperparathyroidism occurs during kidney failure when your calcium level drops too low. In an attempt to maintain normal calcium levels, the parathyroid releases additional PTHs.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Hyperparathyroidism?
The majority of hyperparathyroidism cases have vague symptoms or sometimes show no symptoms at all. When symptoms are present, they are mainly due to the high levels of calcium in the blood.
These symptoms may include:
- Joint pain
- Muscle weakness
- Abdominal discomfort
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Excessive thirst and urination
- Kidney stones
- Thinning bones (osteoporosis)
- Irregular heartbeats or other heart conditions
What Are the Risk Factors of Hyperparathyroidism?
This parathyroid disease may occur to anyone with dysfunctional parathyroid glands, but the following factors can increase your risk of developing the condition:
- Have taken lithium
- Have had neck radiation therapy
- Are a woman who had menopause
- Have an inherited disorder that affects multiple glands like multiple endocrine neoplasias
- Have prolonged vitamin D or calcium deficiency
How Is Hyperparathyroidism Diagnosed?
Since the signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism are often overlooked, a regular blood test is the most effective method to detect hyperthyroidism. In primary hyperparathyroidism, a patient has higher levels of parathyroid hormone and calcium in the blood.
Bone density tests can also be done during this parathyroid disease diagnosis to detect bone loss, which is indicative of decreased levels of calcium. Other tests include ultrasounds of the kidney to check for stones and calcium measurements in the urine.
What Are the Parathyroid Disease Treatment Options?
If the patient has mild hyperparathyroidism, the physician may advise that there is no need for parathyroid gland surgery. Instead, your physician can observe the calcium levels in your blood and monitor blood pressure, kidney function, and bone density.
People who are at risk of hyperparathyroidism should drink more water, increase healthy intake of vitamin D levels, and exercise regularly. Thiazide diuretics or lithium is known to increase calcium levels, so most people are advised to avoid taking these drugs.
Surgically removing one or more parathyroid glands (or parathyroidectomy) is the primary treatment for hyperparathyroidism with a 95% cure rate.
For secondary hyperparathyroidism, the drug “Calcimimetics” has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a viable treatment. The main function of this drug is to stop the production of PTH.
What Are the Complications of Hyperparathyroidism?
Complications of this parathyroid disease relate to the long-term effect of having low calcium in the bones and high calcium in the bloodstream. The most common ones include:
- Neonatal hypoparathyroidism – This involves untreated hyperparathyroidism in pregnant women, which can lead to extremely low calcium levels in infants.
- Cardiovascular disease – A study found that those with low calcium levels may have a higher risk of cardiac arrest.
- Kidney stones – The excess calcium in the blood can accumulate in the kidneys as the body tries to eliminate it through your urine. The accumulation can form small hard deposits that cause pain as you urinate.
- Osteoporosis – Low calcium levels in the bones can lead to weak and brittle bones that can fracture easily.
Is Hyperparathyroidism Preventable?
By far, there is no known method to avoid primary hyperparathyroidism, but people who are at risk should monitor their parathyroid health.
It’s also important to check your diet and avoid foods that might worsen the symptoms of this parathyroid disease.
Can Hyperparathyroidism Cause Weight Loss?
Weight loss can happen to people with hyperparathyroidism, but it is usually because of parathyroid disease surgery. If you experience a sudden weight loss before your diagnosis of this parathyroid disease, it may be because of other health issues.
Hyperparathyroidism patients may sometimes suffer from chronic fatigue, making them less active and resulting in weight gain instead.
Is Parathyroid Disease Cancerous?
Parathyroid disorders seldom develop into cancer, and the only way to completely treat or cure it is to remove the defective gland. Not removing the dysfunctional gland can increase the chances of developing other types of cancer that are related to calcium.
Can You Live Comfortably If You Remove One of the Parathyroid Glands?
Yes, you can even if there is a missing parathyroid gland. All four of these tiny glands do the same job, and removing one allows the other three to still do the work.
Removing all of them can put yourself at risk of having calcium deficiency and experiencing complications related to calcium, though. In most cases, there is just one dysfunctional gland.
It usually grows big and produces too many hormones. Some may have two glands that go bad, but it’s very rare to have three or all four that are defective.
Is It Best to Wait First and See What Happens If You Are Diagnosed with Hyperparathyroidism?
No, it is not. After being diagnosed with this parathyroid disease, it’s best to discuss with your doctor what to do next.
The problem with waiting is the longer the tumor sits in your gland, the higher your chances of developing osteoporosis and other bone-related diseases because the glands work 24 hours.
Although this condition is not lethal, it can cause complications if left untreated or unmanaged.
What Happens to Your Calcium Levels After Parathyroid Surgery?
Your calcium levels start to go down after removing the affected gland. The remaining glands have been “asleep” when your calcium was too high for a period.
It takes at least a week for these healthy parathyroid glands to “wake up” and start working again. This is the reason why you need to take calcium pills to avoid getting its level too low.
You may start experiencing symptoms of low calcium for the first 10 days after the surgery:
- Body feeling vibrating
- Feeling like something is not right (for example, feeling confused)
- Cramps in the wrists and hands
- Tingling in your fingertips
- Tingling around the lips and mouth
Should You Take Calcium for Years to Get Strong Bones Again?
If you have already developed osteoporosis or have been experiencing weak and brittle bones, you may be advised to take calcium pills for years or until prescribed. The pill allows you to compensate for the missing calcium you had when you suffered from hyperparathyroidism.
It’s also best to take vitamin D supplements daily or get enough sun exposure as much as possible. You may experience improvements with your bones quicker if you take vitamin D and calcium pills.
This option still depends on your doctor and your recovery, though.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of hyperparathyroidism, consult your physician. Early detection and treatment are important as it makes this parathyroid disease more manageable than severe cases.
Do you know someone who has hyperparathyroidism? What are the signs and symptoms they experience? Tell us in the comments section below!
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on May 23, 2017, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.