They may be tiny, four pea-sized glands, but if not working properly your parathyroid can pack quite a punch.
“Hyperparathyroidism or increased high calcium, can cause peptic ulcer disease; it can cause mental confusion, accelerated atherosclerosis, kidney stones, and pancreatitis. So it can cause a dramatic amount of problems if left untreated,” says Dr. William Kokal, general surgeon with Lee Memorial Health System.
Parathyroid glands secrete a hormone that manages calcium and phosphorus. It regulates calcium in the blood, bones, intestines and urine. If the system kicks into overdrive, patients may experience symptoms, without connecting them to an over-active or hyperparathyroid.
“They might have a lot of symptoms but typically what brings them to the doctors is a routine lab where the calcium is elevated. And in the work up they find it secondary to primary hyperthyroidism,” says Dr. Kokal.
Hyperparathyroidism is diagnosed in a simple blood test, when levels of calcium and parathyroid hormone are too high. Once confirmed, the go-to treatment is surgery.
“In patients that have chronic high calcium from hypothyroidism, we recommend that be dealt with surgically. Typically it’s a single gland that causes this problem. And in most times we do what they call a radionuclide isolation of that gland or finding that gland, and then make a small cut to take it out,” says Dr. Kokal.
The operation cures the disorder in 95% of cases, and the body can function normally with one less gland. Parathyroid removal can be performed in a minimally invasive manner, which offers little scarring and a quicker recovery.