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


5-minute read

What are the parathyroid glands?

The parathyroid glands control the balance of calcium in your blood by making parathyroid hormone (PTH).

Most people have four parathyroid glands, which are in your neck usually behind the thyroid gland. One or more of your parathyroid glands has become overactive, causing an increase in the level of calcium in your blood.

The most common symptom is bone pain.

Illustration showing a parathyroidectomy.
A parathyroidectomy.

What are the benefits of surgery?

Your symptoms should improve. You should have less risk of permanent damage to your bones, kidneys or heart.

Are there any alternatives to surgery?

Sometimes you can have medication to reduce your calcium levels until you have surgery.

You can also have this medication if you have other medical problems that mean surgery would be too dangerous for you.

What will happen if I decide not to have the operation or the operation is delayed?

If your overactive gland is caused by cancer, there is a risk that it will spread to other parts of your body.

Your doctor will continue to monitor you and may offer you medication.

The level of calcium in your blood may continue to increase and cause damage to your bones, kidneys or heart.

If you experience any of the following symptoms, contact your healthcare team.

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • constipation
  • feeling very thirsty
  • reduced appetite
  • extreme fatigue
  • lethargy
  • tummy pain
  • feeling unwell
  • chest pain
  • difficulty breathing
  • muscle aches or cramps

If you choose to have the parathyroidectomy and your doctor suspects the cause may be cancer, it will not be delayed.

What does the operation involve?

The operation is usually performed under a general anaesthetic but sometimes it may be possible to use a local anaesthetic.

The operation usually takes about an hour. Your surgeon will make a cut on your neck in the line of one of your skin creases.

They will remove any enlarged glands.

How can I prepare myself for the operation?

If you smoke, stopping smoking now may reduce your risk of developing complications and will improve your long-term health.

Try to maintain a healthy weight. You have a higher risk of developing complications if you are overweight.

Regular exercise should help to prepare you for the operation, help you to recover and improve your long-term health. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.

Speak to the healthcare team about any vaccinations you might need to reduce your risk of serious illness while you recover. When you come into hospital, practise hand washing and wear a face covering when asked.

What complications can happen?

Some complications can be serious and in rare cases can even cause death.

General complications of any operation

  • infection of the surgical site (wound)
  • allergic reaction to the equipment, materials or medication
  • blood clot in your leg
  • blood clot in your lung
  • chest infection

Specific complications of this operation

  • bleeding
  • change in your voice
  • breathing difficulties
  • drop in calcium levels in your blood
  • failure of the operation

Consequences of this procedure

  • pain
  • unsightly scarring of your skin

How soon will I recover?

You may be able to go home the same day. However, your doctor may recommend that you stay in hospital a little longer.

You should be able to return to work and normal activities after about 2 weeks, depending on how much surgery you need and your type of work.

Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.

Most people make a full recovery and can return to normal activities.

A normal gland that was not removed may become overactive many years later and you may need another operation.


Parathyroid glands can become overactive, causing an increase in the level of calcium in your blood. Surgery to remove any affected glands is the only reliable way to prevent long-term problems.


The operation and treatment information on this page is published under license by Healthdirect Australia from EIDO Healthcare Australia and is protected by copyright laws. Other than for your personal, non-commercial use, you may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you. Medical Illustration Copyright ©

For more on how this information was prepared, click here.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2023

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Parathyroid glands - Better Health Channel

The parathyroid glands make hormones that regulate calcium, phosphorus and magnesium in the bones and blood.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Parathyroid Gland - Hormones Australia

The parathyroid glands produce parathyroid hormone, which regulates calcium levels in the blood. Parathyroid hormone does this by acting on the bones to release calcium, and on the kidneysto reduce calcium clearance from the body.

Read more on Hormones Australia website

Parathyroid Hormone (PTH) | Pathology Tests Explained

Parathyroid hormone (PTH) helps the body maintain stable levels of calcium in the blood. It is part of a ‘feedback loop’ that includes calcium, PTH, vitamin

Read more on Pathology Tests Explained website

Parathyroid MIBI Scan - InsideRadiology

InsideRadiology provides free and easily accessible, accurate, up to date and credible information about medical imaging tests and procedures.

Read more on InsideRadiology website

Calcium | Pathology Tests Explained

Plasma calcium is tested to screen for, diagnosis, and monitor a range of conditions relating to the bones, heart, nerves, kidneys and teeth. Plasma calcium

Read more on Pathology Tests Explained website

Thyroid - hyperthyroidism - Better Health Channel

Hyperthyroidism can be diagnosed with a simple blood test that measures thyroid hormone levels.

Read more on Better Health Channel 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 Queensland Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.