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Hyperparathyroidism (Excess Parathyroid Hormones)

Alternative names: Primary Hyperparathyroidism

What is hyperparathyroidism?
What are the signs of hyperparathyroidism?
What causes hyperparathyroidism?
How does my doctor tell if I have hyperparathyroidism?
How is hyperparathyroidism treated?

What is hyperparathyroidism?

The parathyroid glands control the level of calcium in your blood. These four small glands are located in the neck, at the corners of the thyroid gland. In hyperparathyroidism, one or more of the parathyroid glands makes too many hormones. This can lead to osteoporosis, or loss of bone density.

What are the signs of hyperparathyroidism?

High levels of parathyroid hormones raise the level of calcium in your blood. This affects various parts of your body, including your bones, digestive system, kidneys, muscles, and central nervous system.

Although hyperparathyroidism may not cause any symptoms, some patients might experience:

  • Feeling fatigued and weak
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Joint pain
  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Kidney pain, caused by kidney stones (calcium deposits in the kidneys)
  • Bone pain or tenderness
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Back pain

What causes hyperparathyroidism?

The condition is most often caused by one or more of the parathyroid glands becoming enlarged. This can happen because of a non-cancerous tumor (adenoma) of a parathyroid gland, or, in rare cases, cancer of one of the parathyroid glands.

How does my doctor tell if I have hyperparathyroidism?

High calcium levels can be detected through a routine blood test. Other blood tests can check the levels of parathyroid hormones in the body. Your doctor may also want to perform one or more of these tests:

  • A urine test to see if you are losing bone calcium
  • A bone density test (dual X-ray absorptiometry, or bone densitometry), to reveal loss of bone tissue
  • Kidney X-rays, to see if any kidney stones have formed

How is hyperparathyroidism treated?

Surgical removal of the affected parathyroid glands is the only known cure for hyperparathyroidism. Your doctor will want to monitor your loss of bone density, to see if surgery is needed. Other treatments include estrogen therapy, for postmenopausal women, and drugs that are used to treat osteoporosis, such as bisphosphonates.

A surgeon can remove a parathyroid gland with an endoscope, a thin flexible tube with a light and image sensor at its tip. In this minimally-invasive procedure, the images created by the endoscope guides the surgeon as he or she uses tiny tools to remove the affected gland(s).

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