Health Information

Parathyroid Gland Disorders


Normal parathyroid glands


The parathyroid glands are usually no bigger than grains of rice. Their main job is to keep the level of calcium in the blood within a certain range. This helps the muscles and nerves work properly and also keeps bones strong. When there is a problem with the parathyroid glands, the blood calcium level may get too high. This has effects throughout the body.

The Parathyroid Glands

The parathyroid glands are most often found behind the thyroid gland in the neck. The parathyroid glands control the level of calcium in the blood by making parathyroid hormone (PTH). This is a chemical messenger that tells the body how to control calcium.

How The Parathyroid Glands Work

When the blood calcium level is low, the glands make more PTH. This tells the body to increase the amount of calcium in the blood. To increase the blood calcium level, the body may absorb more calcium from food in the intestines. It may also take calcium from the bones. When the blood calcium level is high, the glands make less PTH. This tells the body to decrease the amount of calcium in the blood. To decrease the blood calcium level, calcium is filtered out of the blood by the kidneys.

Common Thyroid Problems


Image of woman

When you have hypothyroidism, your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormone. The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. In this condition, the body’s immune system mistakes the thyroid gland for something it needs to attack. Hypothyroidism may also occur if there’s not enough iodine available for the thyroid to make hormone, if there are problems with the pituitary gland, or if the thyroid gland is removed.

Common Symptoms

  • Low energy, fatigue, depression
  • Feeling cold
  • Muscle pain
  • Slowed thinking
  • Constipation
  • Longer, heavier menstrual periods
  • Weight gain
  • Dry and brittle skin, hair, nails


Image of woman

With hyperthyroidism, the thyroid gland produces too much hormone. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is Graves’ disease,a problem where the body’s immune system overstimulates the thyroid. Graves’ disease sometimes causes the eyes to look like they’re bulging (exophthalmos). A nodule in your thyroid gland can cause hyperthyroidism if the cells in the nodule produce more hormone than the rest of the gland.

Common Symptoms

  • Shaking, nervousness, irritability
  • Feeling hot
  • A rapid, irregular heartbeat
  • Muscle weakness, fatigue
  • More frequent bowel movements
  • Shorter, lighter menstrual periods
  • Weight loss
  • Hair loss


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Nodules are lumps of tissue in the thyroid gland. Usually, the cause of nodules isn’t known, but they may be more common in people who’ve had therapeutic radiation to the head or neck. Most of the time, nodules don’t affect the production of thyroid hormone and cause no symptoms. Sometimes they can be felt on the outside. Most nodules are benign (noncancerous), but occasionally a nodule may be cancerous.

What Is a Goiter?

A goiter is the enlargement of the thyroid gland. When the gland enlarges, you may see or feel a swelling on your neck. A goiter may develop in a person with hypothyroidism.

Understanding Hyperparathyroidism

The parathyroid glands are four tiny glands located in the neck. These glands control the level of calcium in the blood. If one or more of the glands is too active, it can cause a high blood calcium level. This is called hyperparathyroidism. Hyperparathyroidism can lead to serious health problems throughout the body, but it can be treated.

Normal parathyroid glands

What Causes Hyperparathyroidism?

Hyperparathyroidism most often occurs when one parathyroid gland becomes enlarged. This is almost always because of a benign (noncancerous) growth called an adenoma. In some cases, more than one parathyroid gland becomes enlarged.

Risk Factors for Hyperparathyroidism

The risk of hyperparathyroidism increases with age. It is also more common in women than men. Other risk factors for hyperparathyroidism include:

  • Having parents or siblings with hyperparathyroidism

  • Getting too little vitamin D in the diet

  • Having certain kidney problems

  • Taking certain medications

  • Having had radiation to the head or neck

    Enlarged parathyroid gland

When You Have Hyperparathyroidism

With hyperparathyroidism, your glands make too much parathyroid hormone (PTH). This is a chemical that tells the body how to control calcium. Too much PTH means the body increases the level of calcium in the blood. This causes a condition called hypercalcemia (an above-normal level of blood calcium). Hypercalcemia can lead to problems throughout the body.

Symptoms of Hyperparathyroidism

  • Muscle weakness

  • Depression

  • Tiredness

  • Poor memory

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Pain in the stomach area (abdomen)

  • Hard stools (constipation)

  • Stomach ulcers

  • Needing to urinate often

  • Kidney stones

  • Joint or bone pain

  • Bone disease (osteopenia or osteoporosis)

What You Can Do

If hyperparathyroidism is not treated, it may get worse over time. Treatment is surgery to remove any enlarged parathyroid glands. This helps restore the level of calcium in the blood to normal. Your doctor will discuss your condition with you and explain the risks and benefits of surgery.