We all want to maintain active lifestyles and healthy body weights, especially as we grow older. For this reason you may already be familiar with the thyroid gland and how it governs your metabolism, weight, sleep or emotional state. However, you may not be familiar with the parathyroid glands and how, if overactive, they can have a severe effect on your health. In this article we will talk about your parathyroid glands, how they help you, and how they can hurt you.
What do the parathyroid glands do?
In your neck there are four tiny little glands, each about the size of a grain of rice. These glands govern the level of calcium in your blood. The parathyroid glands do this by releasing parathyroid hormone (PTH). PTH increases the calcium levels in the blood when needed by increasing the ability to absorb calcium from food. It also assists the kidneys to retain calcium instead of losing it through urine, or breaking down bones to access calcium stored in them.
As a consequence of over active parathyroid glands you could suffer from bone loss or muscle breakdown. You may also have problems with your nervous system, your kidneys, and other organs. This condition is called hyperparathyroidism, and, if left untreated, can have serious consequences. Let’s walk through some of the symptoms of hyperparathyroidism.
How can you tell if your parathyroid glands are producing too much PTH? You may have noticed or been advised of having one or more of these symptoms:
- Loss of concentration
- High blood pressure
- Decreased libido
- Thinning hair
- Kidney stones
- Heart palpitations
- Fatigue and/or lack of quality sleep
- General feeling of weakness and listlessness
- Pain or tenderness in the bones
- Nausea and/or appetite loss
Most of these symptoms have a number of other causes, including simple stress, poor diet, and/or a sedentary lifestyle. However, you should not rule out hyperparathyroidism. If you are suffering from any or all of these symptoms, it is important to talk to your doctor as soon as possible. Hyperparathyroidism is most often diagnosed in patients over 60, but it can occur at any age.
What causes hyperparathyroidism?
Hyperparathyroidism can be caused by a number of conditions. On occasion, a parathyroid gland tumour could cause it to go into overdrive, so to speak. This will cause the body to produce too much PTH and thereby affect the blood calcium levels.
Primary hyperparathyroidism occurs because of some problem with one or more of the four parathyroid glands.
More common conditions that can lead to hyperparathyroidism include:
- A noncancerous growth (adenoma) on a gland is the most common cause.
- Enlargement (hyperplasia) of two or more parathyroid glands accounts for most other cases.
Hyperparathyroidism risk factors
Risk factors for primary hyperparathyroidism include:
- Post menopause
- Prolonged or severe calcium or vitamin D deficiency
- Radiation therapy for head and neck cancer
- Lithium treatment – a drug most often used to treat bipolar disorder
- Rarely due to an inherited disorder, such as multiple endocrine neoplasia, type I, which usually affects multiple glands
Depending on the severity of your condition, you have a range of choices when it comes to treating hyperparathyroidism. If your blood calcium levels are only mildly increased you may not have any symptoms at all. In this instance your doctor may simply suggest that you schedule regular appointments to monitor your calcium levels. Treatment may only be required in those instances where you start to exhibit symptoms.
Whether your doctor prescribes treatment or not, in this case, you can help yourself by increasing the amount of exercise you get on a regular basis, avoiding diuretics, and drinking plenty of fluids.
If your case is more severe, surgery may be necessary to remove one or more of your parathyroid glands. Your doctor may also prescribe supplemental calcium and/or vitamin D. Talk to your doctor today about hyperparathyroidism, your risks, and your treatment options.