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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 and phosphorus in your blood. Hyperparathyroidism is when there is too much PTH in your blood. It occurs when one or more of the glands are too active. Read on to learn more about this condition.

Back view of thyroid gland showing four small parathyroid glands near bottom of thyroid.

Back view of thyroid gland showing four small parathyroid glands near bottom of thyroid.

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. It can also be due to other medical conditions, such as kidney failure or rickets.

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 Hyperparathyroidism

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 Hyperparathyroidism

Symptoms of the condition can include:

  • Muscle weakness

  • Depression

  • Tiredness

  • Confusion and memory loss

  • 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), an increase in bone fractures

  • High blood pressure

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.


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