Do you have a parathyroid disorder? Are you considering surgery? Are you wondering what your parathyroid surgeon will put you through? Here’s a little information to answer some of your questions and get you started.
Firstly, what are the parathyroids? They’re four small glands attached to the back of the thyroid gland, which itself is located between the collarbone and the Adam’s apple in the neck. Like the thyroid, which gives them their name, they secrete hormones that help regulate the body’s systems.
Specifically, they produce the parathyroid hormone, or PTH. It works in coordination with a hormone called calcitonin, produced by the thyroid, to keep the level of calcium in the bloodstream within a very narrow range.
About parathyroid surgery – what your parathyroid surgeon has planned
If your parathyroid surgeon plans to remove one or more of your parathyroid glands, it is either because they are producing too much PTH, which in turn is causing problems for your body, or because they are the site of a tumour or abnormal cell growth, known as hyperplasia.
The two main disorders of the parathyroid glands are hyperparathyroidism and hypoparathyroidism. In the first, the parathyroids produce too much PTH. In the second, they produce too little.
Hypoparathyroidism is a serious condition but not a reason for surgery. In fact, it can be caused by surgery. There are several other causes, including heredity, hemochromatosis, magnesium deficiency and autoimmune disorders.
Hyperparathyroidism, meanwhile, is the only condition of the two likely to require the work of a parathyroid surgeon. This disorder comes in two types, one caused mostly by benign tumours and abnormal cell growth in the glands, the other by vitamin D deficiency, kidney failure and other medical conditions that lead to low calcium levels in the blood.
What your surgeon has planned for you is called a parathyroidectomy. It’s an entirely safe procedure that will be conducted under general or local anaesthetic. Your surgeon will make an incision of a few centimetres just under your Adam’s apple.
These operations are much less invasive than they used to be. In the past, surgeons routinely needed larger incisions to examine all four parathyroid glands, meaning more pain during recovery, longer healing times and greater infection risks. Today, only one small incision is usually all that is required.
Recovery time from this type of operation is relatively fast and success rates are high. If you have questions or concerns about parathyroid problems contact your local doctor, who will arrange for you to see a thyroid surgeon.