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Understanding Hyperparathyroidism

The parathyroid glands are four tiny glands in the neck. They make parathyroid hormone (PTH). PTH controls the amount of calcium in the blood. Hyperparathyroidism is when there is too much PTH in the blood. It occurs when one or more of the glands are too active. Read on to learn more about this condition.

Normal parathyroid glands

Enlarged parathyroid gland

What Causes It?

The condition can occur when a parathyroid gland becomes enlarged. This is often due to a benign (noncancerous) growth in the gland. The growth is called an adenoma. In some cases, more than one parathyroid gland becomes enlarged.

Why Is It a Problem?

With hyperparathyroidism, your glands make too much PTH. The job of PTH is to tell the body how to control calcium. Too much PTH means the body increases the amount of calcium in the blood. This leads to a problem called hypercalcemia. This is when the amount of calcium in the blood becomes too high. Hypercalcemia can cause serious health problems.

Risk Factors for Hypoparathyroidism

The risk factors for developing this condition include:

  • Being a woman (it’s less common in men)

  • Being older (it’s more likely to occur with age)

  • Having parents or siblings with the condition

  • Getting too little vitamin D in your diet

  • Having certain kidney problems

  • Taking certain medications

  • Having had radiation treatment in the head or neck

Symptoms of Hypoparathyroidism

Symptoms of the condition can include:

  • Muscle weakness

  • Depression

  • Tiredness

  • Poor memory

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Pain in the stomach area (abdomen)

  • Hard stools (constipation)

  • Stomach ulcers

  • Need to urinate often

  • Kidney stones

  • Joint or bone pain

  • Bone disease (osteopenia or osteoporosis)

What You Can Do

If hyperparathyroidism is not treated, it can get worse over time. Surgery can be done to remove any enlarged parathyroid glands. This lets the amount of calcium in the blood go back to normal. You and your doctor can discuss your treatment options. Be sure to ask any questions you have.

© 2000-2011 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.