There are so many little parts of our bodies that we don’t learn about in school simply because there just isn’t the time. One of those little seemingly insignificant parts of our bodies are the parathyroid glands. The parathyroid glands are the little glands that are apart of the endocrine system. They are located directly behind the thyroid. There are four parathyroid glands that are only about the size of a grain of rice. These glands regulate the calcium levels in our bodies. This may seem like a small function but the calcium level is what causes our nervous systems and muscular systems to function effectively and properly. When a parathyroid becomes known as diseased, it usually is under active, known as hypoparathyroidism, or overactive, known as hyperparathyroidism. Either one of these parathyroid diseases can disrupt the hormone balance of our bodies and cause further problems and symptoms. Here are some further information of the parathyroid diseases.
- Muscles aches and cramps
- Tingling, burning and numbness in the fingers, toes and lips.
- Muscle spasms
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
- Brittle nails
- Anxiety and depression
- Irregular or painful menstruation cycles
Headaches, vomiting and dental problems can also be symptoms of the disease when present in children.
There are several causes of hypoparathyroidism, not all of which are included here:
- Injury to the parathyroid glands
- Removal of the parathyroid glands
- Genetic disorders that affect the body’s systems like DiGeorge syndrome
- Autoimmune diseases
- Radiation treatment
- Low magnesium
The goal of hypothyroidism treatment is bring the calcium levels back to the proper amount. This may include taking supplements such as calcium carbonate and vitamin D so that the body can absorb calcium better and get rid of phosphorus. These supplements may need to be taken for the rest of the patient’s life. The doctor will continue to monitor the calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and PTH levels through out the patient’s life, adjusting supplement levels as needed.
If the patient’s levels become life threatening, an Iv of calcium will be administered so that your symptoms can be relieved almost instantly as the calcium goes right into your bloodstream.
While hypoparathyroidism is a lack of calcium, hyperparathyroidism can mean too much calcium. The symptoms of this part of the parathyroid diseases are:
- Kidney stones
- More frequent urinating
- Stomach pains
- Nausea accompanied by vomiting
- Memory Loss
- Personality Changes
The most common cause is if you have a non cancerous tumor on one of the parathyroid glands, it can cause hyperparathyroidism. Of course, parathyroid cancer can be the culprit but this is only in very rare cases. Other than that, if two of your parathyroid glands become enlarged, hyperparathyroidism can ensue. However, doctors are still unsure as to what causes the enlargements.
While there is no ‘one method fix all’ for hyperparathyroidism, surgery is the most common type of treatment. If a gland has a tumor or is enlarged, that gland will be removed. Other treatments include medications such as hormone replacement therapy, bisphophonates and calcimimetics.
Battling with parathyroid diseases can be a lifelong struggle similar to hearing loss, sleep disordered breathing or vocal cord paralysis. It is not something that is generally life threatening but definitely makes life much more difficult. Surgery usually helps but not always. Dealing with these diseases is much like having ongoing sinus infections. No one else can see it but you can feel the affects and it can wear you out and wear you down at the same time. Not being able to function properly takes a toll on the body that no one wants to have to go through.
If someone you know is going through one of the parathyroid diseases, try to be understanding of their plight. It can be frustrating to loved ones that the diseased person does not seem to be handling their ailment correctly, but just because you can’t see what’s going on inside their bodies, doesn’t mean that there is not a real struggle happening just to live on a day to day basis. It sounds like it’s not a big deal: too much or too little calcium. So, drink milk, right? But, hopefully this article has shown you that it is so much more than that and if left untreated, these diseases can lead to worse illnesses such as osteoporosis and the breakdown of bones, joints and teeth.