by Eric Bergson, MD
The parathyroid glands are four small glands that sit next to the thyroid gland in the lower central part of the neck. They produce a hormone called parathyroid hormone (PTH), that is involved in controlling the calcium level in the bloodstream. The most common disorder involving the parathyroid glands is called primary hyperparathyroidism, where one or more the glands becomes over grown and overactive. This results in high levels of calcium circulating in the blood. This excess calcium is mainly pulled from the bones, and can lead to osteoporosis. The high levels of calcium in the blood can also effect the kidneys, resulting in kidney stones and other damage. However, most people with primary hyperparathyroidism have no symptoms at all. They usually find that their calcium level is elevated on routine blood work done by their primary care doctor.
The only treatment for primary hyperparathyroidism is surgery. The abnormal gland, or glands, is removed through a small incision in the neck. Depending on the situation a person may be able to go home on the day of surgery, or might be kept in the hospital overnight for observation. Not everyone with primary hyperparathyroidism has to undergo surgery. Simple observation and monitoring may be appropriate in certain situations. Talk with your doctors about it so that the right treatment plan for you can be selected.