- The parathyroid glands are 4 small glands found in your neck.
- Your parathyroid glands make parathyroid hormone, which manages your blood calcium level.
- Hyperparathyroidism is a condition where too much parathyroid hormone is made.
- Hypoparathyroidism is a condition where too little parathyroid hormone is made.
What are my parathyroid glands?
Your parathyroid glands are 4 small glands, that are each about the size of a grain of rice.
There are usually 2 parathyroid glands on each side of your neck. They sit behind another gland called the thyroid gland.
Illustration showing the parathyroid glands.
What do my parathyroid glands do?
Your parathyroid glands make parathyroid hormone (PTH). Parathyroid hormone helps to manage how much calcium is in your blood.
Parathyroid hormone keeps your calcium level steady by:
- adjusting the amount of calcium released by your bones into your blood
- managing the amount of calcium that is removed by your kidneys in your urine (wee)
- activating vitamin D in your kidneys, which affects how much calcium is absorbed from your gut
Calcium is important for the proper functioning of your:
What medical conditions affect my parathyroid glands?
Medical conditions can affect your parathyroid glands, causing them to make too much or too little parathyroid hormone.
Sometimes your parathyroid glands may produce too much parathyroid hormone. This condition is called hyperparathyroidism.
Hyperparathyroidism can cause high blood calcium levels. It can be diagnosed with blood tests including:
- calcium blood test
- parathyroid hormone level
What causes hyperparathyroidism?
Most cases of hyperparathyroidism are due to a non-cancerous growth on your parathyroid gland. It can sometimes be due to your parathyroid glands growing too big. In rare cases, it can be due to cancer. These are all types of primary hyperparathyroidism.
Your parathyroid hormone levels can also go up if you have low levels of vitamin D or chronic kidney disease. This is known as secondary hyperparathyroidism.
What are the symptoms of hyperparathyroidism?
Symptoms of hyperparathyroidism are:
- kidney stones
- muscle pains
- poor sleep
- anxiety and depression
- problems with thinking and memory
A loss of calcium from your bones increases your risk of osteoporosis. This is a condition where your bones become less dense and can break more easily.
What is the treatment for hyperparathyroidism?
Your treatment will depend on the cause of your hyperparathyroidism. You should talk to your doctor to learn more about what treatment you might need and what to expect.
For some types of primary hyperparathyroidism, your doctor might advise surgery to remove one or more of your parathyroid glands.
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Hypoparathyroidism is when your parathyroid glands don't make enough parathyroid hormone.
Hypoparathyroidism is rare. It usually happens if your parathyroid glands are damaged during neck surgery — for example, surgery for thyroid problems or hyperparathyroidism.
Diagnosis and treatment of hypoparathyroidism
Hypoparathyroidism causes low calcium levels in your blood. This can cause different symptoms, depending on how low your calcium level is and how quickly it drops.
Your treatment depends on your symptoms and your blood calcium level. Calcium replacement and calcitriol are usually given.
If you have surgery on your thyroid or parathyroid glands, you will be closely watched for low calcium levels. You will be given calcium supplements to take after surgery. You'll also have regular checks of your calcium and parathyroid hormone levels.
Resources and support
Hormones Australia offers support and resources on hormone-related conditions and endocrine glands, including the parathyroid gland.
You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: March 2023