Hyperparathyroidism – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Hyperparathyroidism is caused by overactive parathyroid glands. 4 pea-sized glands behind the thyroid gland at the front of our neck are called parathyroids. In spite of the similarity in name and location, the parathyroid glands and thyroid gland are separate glands with very different functions. Though their names are similar, the thyroid and parathyroid glands are entirely different glands, each producing distinct hormones with specific functions. The parathyroid glands secrete PTH, a substance that helps maintain the correct balance of calcium and phosphorous in the body. PTH regulates the level of calcium in the blood, release of calcium from bone, absorption of calcium in the intestine, and excretion of calcium in the urine.

Approximately 3-5 percent of all patients with primary hyperparathyroidism will have an enlargement of all four parathyroid glands, a term called parathyroid hyperplasia. In this instance, all of the parathyroid glands become enlarged and produce too much parathyroid hormone.

Causes

Two out of every 1,000 women age 60 and older will develop the disease. Infants and adults with vitamin D deficiency are at greater risk of developing secondary hyperparathyroidism. Hypovitaminosis D increases the risk for fractures, bone pain, and the development of either osteomalacia or rickets. Risk factors include lack of sun exposure, inadequate dietary intake, and advanced age.

Symptoms

Someone with hyperparathyroidism may experience some of the following symptoms:

* Feeling depressed or tired all the time
* Pain in any part of your body
* Heartburn (because the high calcium level in your blood causes your stomach to make too much acid)
* Nausea, vomiting, pain in your abdomen (tummy) or constipation
* High blood pressure

Treatment

Surgery to remove the enlarged gland is the only treatment for the disorder and cures it in 95 percent of cases. Patients who are symptom-free, whose blood calcium is only slightly elevated, and whose kidneys and bones are normal, may wish to talk to their doctor about long-term monitoring.

Secondary hyperparathyroidism is treated by restoring the calcium back into the normal range, usually by giving calcium and vitamin D alone or in combination, depending on the underlying disorder. Fortunately, the surgical treatment of hyparathyroidism is very safe and very successful. When performed by a surgeon experienced in parathyroid surgery, neck exploration for hyperparathyroidism has about a 96% success rate in curing hyperparathyroidism. That means that there is about a 4% chance of the operation not correcting the hyperparathyroidism. There are basically 3 reasons why the operation might not correct the problem.