Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
What is hyperparathyroidism?
You have 4 pea-sized glands behind the thyroid
gland at the front of your neck. These glands are called parathyroids. They make
a hormone called parathyroid hormone (PTH) that keeps the right levels of
calcium in your blood and bones. PTH helps you absorb calcium from your food and
keeps you from losing too much calcium in your urine. When your parathyroid
glands make too much of this hormone, you have a condition called
hyperparathyroidism (HPT). The amount of calcium going into your bones usually
matches the amount of calcium passing out of you bones. This means that the
amount of calcium in your bones should stay about the same all the time. If you
have HPT, more calcium is coming out of your bones than is going in, so you get
too much calcium in your blood. Other parts of your body don't work as well if
you have too much calcium in your blood.
What are the symptoms of
Someone with hyperparathyroidism may experience
some of the following symptoms:
- You might feel depressed or feel tired all the
- Any part of your body might hurt.
- You might have heartburn because the high calcium
level in your blood causes your stomach to make too much acid.
- You might have nausea, vomiting, pain in your
abdomen (tummy) or constipation.
- High blood pressure.
What does HPT do to your
Your bones might hurt if they don't have enough
calcium in them. Losing calcium also makes your bones weak. Weak bones break
more easily and are slower to heal than normal bone. You might develop kidney
stones, because your kidneys are trying to filter out the extra calcium in your
blood. Too much calcium in your kidneys might make you thirsty or increase your
need to urinate. Too much calcium in your blood also causes high blood
pressure. All these things happen so slowly that you may not notice at
first, or you may get used to not feeling well.
Who gets HPT?
More women get HPT than men. HPT is more common
in older people. Nothing you eat or do causes this disease. You have about 1
chance in 1,000 of getting this disease after you are 60 years old.
How does my doctor know I have HPT?
HPT is most often suspected when a high level of
calcium is found in your blood on a routine blood test. The test results can
help your family doctor make the diagnosis even before any problems start. This
is one benefit of having regular blood tests. Further blood testing proves the
diagnosis, usually by measuring the amount of PTH in your blood. A special scan
can find the growth on your parathyroid gland, if that is what is causing your
HPT. Regular x-rays look normal until late in the disease, so they aren't much
help in diagnosing HPT. Other causes of increased calcium in the blood, such as
some medicines or cancer, must sometimes be considered.
How is HPT treated?
Surgery to remove the growth in your neck almost
always solves the problem. The growth doesn't usually come back. Most of your
symptoms will stop in the first month after surgery. For a short time after
surgery, your blood calcium level may be too low. This problem is easily treated
with medicine.Although surgery is usually recommended for people with HPT
(unless they have no symptoms), sometimes other medical problems make surgery
too risky. Then your doctor may recommend treatment with medicine alone.
Medicines can treat some, but not all, of the symptoms of HPT. If you don't have
surgery, tests are needed from time to time to see if the disease is hurting
your kidneys, bones or other body systems. Special machines can check your bone
strength. Women who take estrogen after menopause are partly protected from the
effects of HPT. Most people feel much better after treatment when the
discomforts that they have been trying to live with go away.
Websites:Thyroid Foundation of America, Inc.: www.tsh.org