What is Hyperparathyroidism?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Hyperparathyroidism is a medical condition that causes an excessive amount of calcium in the blood. Caused by several varying factors, the condition is often asymptomatic or presents as a series of seemingly non-related symptoms. In most cases, hyperparathyroidism is treatable by surgery or drug therapy. If untreated, possible complications can be severely impairing and possibly fatal.

Lack of vitamin D can lead to low calcium levels in the body.
Lack of vitamin D can lead to low calcium levels in the body.

The parathyroid glands are four tiny glands located in the throat. When functioning normally, the glands monitor and control the amount of calcium in the blood. If the body is receiving too little calcium, the parathyroid glands will step up production to keep the body in balance. Hyperparathyroidism indicates that one or more of the glands is creating too much calcium, or not slowing production despite adequate calcium intake. As a result, the blood becomes hypercalcemic, leading to possible illness and complications.

There are two main types of hyperparathyroidism, called primary and secondary. Primary conditions are specifically related to problems with the glands themselves. Often, the condition is a result of a benign tumor on the gland, or an abnormally large gland. Secondary hyperparathyroidism can occur when other medical conditions cause a calcium deficiency in the bloodstream. Lack of vitamin D or problematic kidneys are both likely factors in causing secondary forms of the condition. Some experts further divide diagnosis into three parts, with a diagnosis of tertiary hyperparathyroidism referring to a condition caused by chronic, long term calcium deficiency.

Diagnosis is typically somewhat tricky for this condition. Symptoms may be entirely unapparent, or may indicate dozens of different possible conditions. Fatigue, early onset osteoporosis, nausea, unexplained weight loss, and even frequent urination can all be signs of of the glandular malfunction. Tests to achieve a correct diagnosis usually include bone density scans and blood work to determine if there is too much calcium present in the blood.

In the case of primary hyperparathyroidism, surgery is often the solution. Removing benign or even malignant tumors from the glands can cause normal function to resume. Often, surgery can be accomplished in a single day with little or no recovery time. Other possible remedies include various drugs that affect calcium production and may cure or improve symptoms.

If hyperparathyroidism is suspected, prompt medical attention should be sought. Complications can cause kidney failure or permanently damage kidney function, as well as lead to other organ problems, such as heart disease. For pregnant mothers, hyperparathyroidism can affect fetuses and nursing infants, and tests should be performed as soon as possible to prevent any fetal damage. Although diagnosis may take a frustratingly long time, treatment is often quick and usually very effective, allowing normal health to return as soon as possible.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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