What is hyperparathyroidism?

Hyperparathyroidism: Overview

Hyperparathyroidism means that your parathyroid glands are too active. These are tiny glands in the neck. They sit behind the thyroid gland. They make a hormone that helps control how much calcium is in the blood. When these glands make too much hormone, the amount of calcium in the blood goes up.

Most people with this problem have no symptoms. But it can cause constipation, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and depression. It also can lead to high blood pressure, ulcers, kidney stones, and weak bones.

This problem often is caused by a tumor on the parathyroid glands. The tumor usually is not cancer. You may need surgery to take out one or more of the glands.

Hyperparathyroidism

Hyperparathyroidism is overactivity of the tiny glands in the neck that are next to the thyroid gland (parathyroid glands). The parathyroid glands release a substance called parathyroid hormone that helps control the amount of calcium in the bloodstream.

When the parathyroid glands produce too much hormone, the amount of calcium in the blood increases. The body removes calcium from the bones, absorbs more calcium from the intestines, and releases less calcium into the urine. This can result in constipation, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and other symptoms. It can also lead to kidney stones and weakening of the bones (osteoporosis).

Hyperparathyroidism may develop because of a tumor on the parathyroid gland, as a side effect of treatment for other conditions (such as Paget's disease), or for unknown reasons. Surgery may be needed to remove part or all of the parathyroid glands.

What are the symptoms of hyperparathyroidism?

Most people with hyperparathyroidism have no symptoms when they're diagnosed. But when it does cause symptoms, they can include:

  • Weak muscles.
  • Feeling very tired or needing to sleep more than usual.
  • Depression.
  • Aches and pains in the bones and joints.
  • Poor appetite.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Constipation.
  • Confusion and problems with memory.
  • Feeling thirsty and having to urinate more than usual.

How is hyperparathyroidism treated?

Treatment for hyperparathyroidism depends on how mild or severe it is. It also depends on what you and your doctor decide is right for you.

Treatment options include:

Watchful waiting.

In mild cases, when there are no symptoms from high calcium and the calcium level is not very high, a doctor may suggest watchful waiting. That means doing regular tests to look for signs that hyperparathyroidism is getting worse or causing other health problems and needs more treatment.

Surgery.

When hyperparathyroidism is causing health problems from high calcium levels, doctors usually recommend surgery. Removing the problem parathyroid gland(s) is the only treatment that can cure this condition. Surgery can also be an option for people who don't yet have symptoms but are concerned about possible bone or kidney problems in the future.

While medicine can't cure hyperparathyroidism, it may help with symptoms from high calcium or with bone strength. If you can't have surgery for a medical reason, talk to your doctor about medicine for better bone strength or for lowering your calcium levels.

Each treatment choice has its own risks and benefits. Make sure you understand the possible benefits, along with which risks are greatest for you. Find out how each treatment choice may affect your long-term health.

When talking about the risks and benefits of a treatment option, ask your doctor:

  • Is my calcium increase mild enough that we can use watchful waiting? If so, what would be signs that I need other treatment?
  • Is there an urgent reason for me to have parathyroid surgery?
  • What benefits would you expect me to get from surgery? What are the possible risks?
  • Is there a medical reason why parathyroid surgery is not safe for me?
  • If I don't have surgery, how is my health likely to change? Over what period of time?
  • Is there a medicine that can help me? If so, what benefits might it offer? What are the possible risks?

How is hyperparathyroidism diagnosed?

Your doctor does a blood test to check your parathyroid hormone (PTH) level. A high level of PTH is the main sign of this condition.

A routine blood test showing a high calcium level is often the first sign of hyperparathyroidism.

Routine checkups

When you have hyperparathyroidism, it's important to have regular checkups. Tests can include:

  • Blood tests of your calcium and PTH levels to see if your condition is the same or getting worse.
  • DXA tests. The DXA is an X-ray test that measures bone density. It is used to see if your bones are getting thin and brittle, which means they could break more easily.
  • Urine tests to see if your kidneys are being affected and if they might form kidney stones.
  • Imaging tests to look for kidney problems.

How can you care for yourself when you have hyperparathyroidism?

If you have hyperparathyroidism, use these healthy tips.

  • Try to keep track of the calcium and vitamin D you get from foods, drinks, and medicines. Check with your doctor about the amounts of calcium and vitamin D that are best for you.
  • Try regular weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, to help your bone strength.
  • Drink plenty of water. Not getting enough fluids can play a part in getting kidney stones.

What causes hyperparathyroidism?

Hyperparathyroidism often is caused by a growth on one or more parathyroid glands, or by enlarged glands. In some cases, it runs in families. It can also be caused by certain health conditions or medicines. For example, it can be caused by chronic kidney disease or the medicine lithium.

What is hyperparathyroidism?

Hyperparathyroidism means that one or more of your four parathyroid glands may be too active. These are tiny glands in the neck, behind the thyroid gland. When they're too active, they make too much parathyroid hormone (PTH). This hormone helps control how much calcium is in your blood.

When a parathyroid gland makes too much PTH, the amount of calcium in your blood goes up. Some of this calcium comes from your bones. That means that hyperparathyroidism can lead to weak bones and a greater risk of broken bones. The extra calcium in the blood can also lead to kidney stones and other health problems.

Hyperparathyroidism: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are confused or have trouble thinking.
  • Your vomiting and nausea do not go away with treatment.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You get weaker and more tired even after treatment.
  • You feel depressed or have aches and pains.
  • You are constipated.
  • You have increased thirst and urination.
  • You do not feel hungry.
  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.