Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Parathyroid glands

2-minute read

The parathyroid glands are four small glands, each about the size of a grain of rice. There are usually two 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.

illustration of the endocrine glands

What medical conditions are related to the parathyroid glands?

Sometimes the parathyroid glands produce too much parathyroid hormone. This is usually just because the glands have grown too big, but 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.

A parathyroid problem might also make you feel tired, and it can cause kidney stones, stomach pains, or pains in the joints.

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.

More information

Learn more about the endocrine system and the different hormones released by the endocrine glands.

Last reviewed: December 2016

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Hyperparathyroidism - myDr.com.au

Hyperparathyroidism is when your parathyroid glands (situated in the neck) produce too much parathyroid hormone, causing abnormally high calcium levels in the blood.

Read more on myDr website

Hyperparathyroidism information | myVMC

Hyperparathyroidism is a hormonal condition which causes elevated blood calcium. It occurs due to thyroid gland tumours.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Rare Cancers Australia - Directory - Parathyroid Cancer

Rare Cancers Australia is a charity whose purpose is to improve the lives and health outcomes of Australians living with a rare or less common cancer.

Read more on Rare Cancers Australia website

Sensipar Tablets - myDr.com.au

Sensipar Tablets - Consumer Medicines Information leaflets of prescription and over-the-counter medicines

Read more on myDr – Consumer Medicine Information website

Parathyroid glands

Four tiny parathyroid glands are located around the thyroid in the throat. ‘Para’ means ‘near’, which explains the name. These glands are part of the endocrine system, which consists of a range of glands that secrete hormones into the bloodstream. The main function of the parathyroid glands is to make the parathyroid hormone (PTH). This chemical regulates the amounts of calcium, phosphorus and magnesium in the bones and blood.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Parathyroid hormone - Lab Tests Online AU

Why and when to get tested for PTH

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

Hyperparathyroidism and osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become fragile, leading to a higher risk of breaks or fractures. A minor bump or fall can be enough to cause a break in someone with osteoporosis. People with hyperparathyroidism are at increased risk of developing osteoporosis. This fact-sheet explains how hyperparathyroidism can affect your bones, how to find out if you are at risk of osteoporosis, and what you can do to help protect your bone health.

Read more on Osteoporosis Australia website

Osteitis fibrosa cystica (bone disorder) information | myVMC

Osteitis fibrosa cystica is a complication of hyperparathyroidism. Bone becomes soft, deformed and/or develops cycsts. Surgery is usually required.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Multiple endocrine neoplasia I (endocrine adenomatosis) | myVMC

Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 is a genetic condition characterised by tumour growth in the endocrine glands. Tumours are typically benign.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Renal osteodystrophy (kidney bone disease) information | myVMC

Renal osteodystrophy refers to changes in bone due to chronic kidney failure or kidney disease. It is characterised by abnormal bone mineral levels.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo