The parathyroid glands are 4 small glands, each about the size of a grain of rice. There are usually 2 on each side of the neck, sitting behind another gland called the thyroid gland.
What do the parathyroid glands do?
The parathyroid glands make parathyroid hormone. Parathyroid hormone helps to control how much calcium is in your body. In particular, it controls how much calcium is:
- absorbed through your gut
- carried in your blood
- stored in your bones
Calcium is important for the proper functioning of your nerves, your muscles and your bones.
What medical conditions are related to the parathyroid glands?
Sometimes the parathyroid glands produce too much parathyroid hormone (hyperparathyroidism). This is usually because of a non-cancerous growth on the gland or because the glands have grown too big. In rare cases, it can be due to cancer.
If you have too much parathyroid hormone, your body can take too much calcium away from your bones, and put calcium into your blood instead. This means that when you have a blood test, it will show the calcium levels are too high.
A loss of calcium from your bones increases the risk of osteoporosis, which is where your bones become thinner and can break more easily. But not everyone who has osteoporosis has a parathyroid problem.
If a parathyroid gland problem leads to you having one of these conditions, your doctor might recommend surgery to remove one or more of your parathyroid glands. There are different techniques for this kind of surgery. You should talk to your doctor for more information about what treatment you might need and what to expect.
Last reviewed: November 2018