You may have heard about the function of the thyroid, or at least about people dealing with thyroid issues. You might not know, however, about another group of glands in your neck called parathyroid glands. Like the thyroid, these can sometimes run on overdrive too, resulting in hyperparathyroidism.
More specifically, the parathyroid controls your body’s calcium and potassium levels. They achieve this by releasing its hormone into the bloodstream as needed. If you have high levels in your blood already, the glands won’t release the parathyroid hormone.
Every once in a while, one or more of these little glands will overproduce its PTH hormone. The excess PTH will signal the body to release more calcium from the bones and absorb more of this nutrient from food, elevating your levels above normal.
Depending on how elevated your levels are, this condition can prove quite dangerous. Severe cases can lead to increased bone fractures and may need surgery to correct due to its life-threatening nature.
According to the National Institutes of Health, about 100,000 people develop hyperparathyroidism each year, and women have a much higher tendency for the condition. Female cases total as many as 75,000 women in the United States. In addition, women between ages 50—60 are diagnosed with it most often.
To identify this condition, you have to pay close attention to your body’s signals. If any of the following signs seem out of the ordinary, consult your doctor.
Symptoms for this condition include the following: osteoporosis, depression or trouble focusing mentally, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, bone or joint pain, stomach pain, and frequent urination. Because many of these symptoms can also be attributed to other health problems, you should look into them right away.
Why It Happens
An overactive parathyroid can occur for several reasons. The most common cause is a benign growth on one of the glands. In fact, your doctor will probably look for this growth first since it causes about 80—85 percent of hyperparathyroidism cases. In rare cases, the tumor will actually be cancerous.
At the same time, hyperparathyroidism can occur if another health condition causes significantly low calcium or vitamin D levels. In this case, doctors call the condition secondary hyperparathyroidism. People may have diet-related calcium or vitamin D deficiencies or another underlying health problem like chronic kidney failure.
Treating the Condition
For diagnosis, a doctor will need to test your calcium and PTH levels. Since most people do not produce noticeable symptoms, you should consider routine blood tests to check for various conditions and deficiencies.
Again, many people with hyperparathyroidism get diagnosed without prior knowledge of any symptoms. If a test comes back positive for the condition, your doctor may also run tests for kidney damage and bone density.
If you have a mild case, you and your doctor may decide to pursue active monitoring. Your doctor will need to check calcium levels, kidney function, and bone density regularly and reevaluate based on the results.
If you have low vitamin D levels, you should take a supplement to maintain the correct amount. In addition, your doctor may prescribe medication to control calcium levels and improve bone density.
If your calcium levels are raised too high, you may need surgery. Your doctor should look into the number of glands affected, even if he only suspects one or two. You may be able to opt for a minimally invasive outpatient surgery if only one gland is causing the problem.
Finally, surgery is the only known way of solving the parathyroid problem and has resulted in a cure for 95 percent of cases. This surgical intervention will also decrease the risk for bone fracture and any other complications of hyperparathyroidism.
Overall, hyperparathyroidism has proven a highly treatable condition with a positive surgical success rate. In mild cases, you may not need surgery at all and can opt for active monitoring instead. If you experience any of the mild symptoms for hyperparathyroidism, you should look into right away. Finding the condition early will reduce complications and help you feel renewed more quickly.
This article first appeared on AskDrManny.com.
Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.