The parathyroid glands are four glands in the neck that control calcium in the body. They secrete a hormone when there is low blood calcium or normal blood calcium but not enough of it.
If this happens, you will need parathyroid surgery to remove these glands, which can be safely done under general anesthesia in most cases with a simple procedure.
In most people with hyperparathyroidism, the parathyroid glands will be found and removed through surgery. If you consider whether to have the surgery, here are some things you need to understand about these organs.
What are Parathyroid Glands?
According to reports, in about 8 out of 10 people with primary hyperparathyroidism, a benign or noncancerous tumor called an adenoma has formed in one of the parathyroid glands.
The parathyroid glands are four tiny organs in the neck that produce a hormone (called PTH) that helps regulate calcium in the body. They control how much calcium is present in our blood, and if levels get too low or too high, they will secrete this hormone to help bring it back down or up, respectively.
Although your parathyroid glands are relatively close to your thyroid gland, it is essential to remember that they are not the same.
The parathyroid glands control blood calcium levels, and the thyroid gland controls metabolism, which is how your body uses energy.
The four parathyroid glands usually measure about one centimeter across and weigh less than an ounce each. They are simply four reddish-brown lumps in the neck that cannot be seen outside.
What Happens in a Parathyroid Surgery?
It is a surgical procedure that takes about an hour and follows the same basic procedures as any other parathyroid surgery. The glands themselves are removed through a short incision in the neck, and the small vessels leading to them are cauterized, which stops them from bleeding excessively.
It is simple enough to be done under general anesthesia (you go to sleep), and little or no recovery time is needed.
Typically, the patient will go home the same day as the surgery but should be back in the office to see their surgeon within a few days for a check-up.
Why Do You Need Parathyroid Surgery?
The most common cause of hyperparathyroidism (over-functioning parathyroid glands) is the result of a small benign tumor that forms on one or more of these glands.
The tumors can be seen as tiny brown spots, called “speckles,” on the gland’s surface and look like little dark freckles.
These tumors almost always require immediate surgery to remove them and stop them from producing this hormone that damages the body’s bones, kidneys, and blood vessels. Indeed, if left undetected, they can lead to death.
When Should You Opt for Surgery?
Here are some extreme cases which warrant immediate parathyroid surgery:
High Blood Pressure
Parathyroid surgery is warranted if you have severe and uncontrolled high blood pressure (hypertension). This condition, called “primary hyperparathyroidism,” is associated with a very high risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
If your calcium is super-high or low enough to cause cramps, thirst, nausea, vomiting, constipation, or kidney stones – then it is time for surgery.
If your calcium level is above the normal range and you have been treated with a medication called “thiazide” to try to reduce this level, but continue to form kidney stones regularly, then surgery may be needed.
If you are treated with a medication called “thiazide,” you will require surgery, even if your calcium is normal.
If your kidney function gets worse over time due to high calcium levels in the blood and it begins to cause heart problems or muscle weakness, then surgery may be needed.
If you are constantly tired, even after getting a good night’s sleep, and all other possible causes for this fatigue have been ruled out (such as anemia or thyroid disease), then you may need surgery.
If the bones in your body (especially your back) begin to break down and cause pain and weakness in your legs or arms, then parathyroid surgery may be needed.
If your blood hemoglobin (the molecule that carries oxygen in your blood) is below the normal range, and you are not taking medication for this condition, a surgery may be necessary to stop calcium from getting too high.
High Calcium Level at Birth
Babies born with a very high calcium level (called hypercalcemia of prematurity) are at risk of becoming mentally retarded. Surgery is always needed to help this condition be detected in the first weeks of life.
Surgery should also be considered if you are not taking in enough calcium, vitamin D, or magnesium. Your body cannot use what it gets from your food and supplements since parathyroid glands over-function.