It can be somewhat confusing to understand the difference between the thyroid and parathyroid glands, especially if you are not an anatomy buff. These bodily structures do have a lot in common and plenty of similarities but perform different functions for the body.
Both of these types of glands are part of the body’s endocrine system. This means that they are responsible for producing and releasing hormones into the bloodstream that send messages to different cells throughout the body, stimulating different systems and encouraging the body to perform different functions. All of these glands are located in the same area in the neck. The thyroid gland is one gland that has a shape that is often compared to a butterfly, with each “wing” wrapped around either side of the windpipe.
The two lobes of the thyroid gland wrap around toward the back of the throat and there are two parathyroid glands located on the end of each. Therefore, while your body has one thyroid gland, it has four, pea-sized parathyroid glands.
What Does the Thyroid Gland Do?
It would almost be easier to explain what the thyroid doesn’t do, as it has so many responsibilities. Simply put, this gland produces three different hormones: T3, T4, and calcitonin. When these hormones are produced and released into the bloodstream, they can boost energy levels, regulate metabolism, control levels of calcium in the blood, and perform many other tasks by stimulating the necessary systems in the body.
When the hypothalamus and/or pituitary gland within the brain detect that increased production of the thyroid hormones are needed within the body, they produce hormones that stimulate the thyroid to start generating and releasing its hormones.
What Do the Parathyroid Glands Do?
These glands operate very similarly to the thyroid gland, but on a somewhat smaller scale. While the thyroid gland produces three different hormones that affect many different bodily functions, the parathyroid glands product the parathyroid hormone, which controls the levels of calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium in the blood stream.
They are responsible for ensuring that the appropriate levels of these minerals remain in the blood stream, whether that means encouraging the body to absorb calcium from the intestine or the bones, or stimulating the kidneys to excrete phosphate through the urine. The parathyroid hormone sends the messages necessary to regulate the presence of these minerals.
What Happens if the Thyroid Malfunctions?
Thyroid disorders are quite common and can affect the body in numerous ways. If the thyroid is not producing enough of its hormones, this is a condition known as hypothyroidism. This can lead to problems such as fatigue, aches, weight gain, and depression.
The opposite is hyperthyroidism, which is the overproduction of the thyroid hormones. This can lead to insomnia, anxiety, unexpected weight loss, and many other issues. The gland could be overproducing because of a nodule or thyroid cancer. Therefore, it is imperative that these problems be investigated as early as possible.
What Happens if the Parathyroid Glands Malfunction?
It is also serious if the parathyroid glands are not functioning properly. This can lead to dangerously high or low levels of calcium, magnesium, or phosphorous in the body. A malfunctioning parathyroid gland can cause troubling side effects in regards to the calcium levels in the body. If the body is being told by the parathyroid hormone that more calcium is needed in the bloodstream, too much calcium may be released from the bones, leaving them vulnerable to injury. One of the most important similarities between the thyroid and the parathyroid glands is that it is important that they are functioning normally and healthily.