Issue #296  April 9, 2015

Welcome to KnowYourThyroid.

Today, we are talking about parathyroid glands and how their function affects our health.

I didn’t even know parathyroid glands existed until my boss had problems with too much calcium in her blood.




The Role of Parathyroid Hormone in Our Health


By June Rousso | June Rousso, Ph.D.


Many people have heard of the thyroid gland, which among its many functions, controls our body’s metabolism.  But when you mention the parathyroid, that is another story.  Most people have never heard of these four lentil-sized glands, which, in fact, are located on  the thyroid.

The role of the parathyroid is to regulate calcium levels in the blood.  We need adequate blood levels for strong bones and teeth, and to support heart health, muscle contraction, and blood clotting.  Calcium also helps our nerves to fire and send messages throughout the body.

When calcium levels are low in the blood, parathyroid hormone is released and stimulates specific cells that break down bone to release calcium into the blood.  This is a built-in monitoring system in our body.  In turn, if calcium levels become too high, parathyroid hormone will not be released in order to decrease calcium levels.

Sometimes the parathyroid glands can go on overdrive when they get enlarged or develop typically benign tumors.  Only rarely are the tumors cancerous.  The monitoring system is now out of whack indefinitely and the blood calcium levels are too high.

Once this occurs there can be real health risks, including increased probability of heart disease, especially as the excess calcium comes to line our arteries and restrict blood flow. This puts people at particular risk for strokes and hypertension, which normally are the result of a restriction in the flow of blood. Hyperthyroidism also can affect the beating of the heart, resulting in rapid heartbeats and poor blood flow.

Digestive problems can be associated with hyperthyroidism as well, including constipation, heartburn, nausea, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite. Even some cancers have been associated with hyperparathyroidism. In terms of the nervous system, typical complaints are fatigue, depression, irritability, anxiety, memory problems, and brain fog.  Bones can weaken and there can be joint and bone pain.  Remember that calcium is being pulled out of the bones as the result of the stimulation of cells whose role is to break down bone.  Muscle weakness and muscle aches also have been reported.  Kidney stones can develop as a result of excess calcium along with increased urination and excessive thirst.  Kidney disease can develop in severe cases.

One of the problems in diagnosing parathyroidism is that so many of the symptoms are can easily be attributed to the stresses of everyday living.  Especially as we grow older, we often are too quick to dismiss symptoms as stress-related or as part of the aging process without delving deeper and finding that in some instances the existence of true and often treatable medical conditions. Another factor is that doctors may not test parathyroid levels even when excess calcium levels show up from blood test.  It never hurts to ask for parathyroid levels to be tested if you are experiencing at least four of the described symptoms.

Surgery by a well-qualified physician who has performed many parathyroid surgeries is the best course to help regular calcium levels in the body. The overactive glands are removed and in the vast majority of cases people report that many of the uncomfortable symptoms lessen to significant degrees. One woman that I spoke to reported increased energy levels and another described herself as feeling ten years younger, having shinier hair, and an improved complexion! I recently had the surgery myself and already after a few days am starting to feel more vibrant amid slumps in energy and hopefully, the best is yet to come!  My clue that something was wrong was excess fatigue that was out of sync with living what I think is a reasonably balanced life.  I am so thankful to have found a physician who was aware of the condition, and knew to measure both my calcium and parathyroid levels.  Hopefully this article will increase awareness of hyperthyroidism and how to test for it, and ultimately increase the quality of life for people suffering with the condition.

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