Primary Hyperparathyroidism

What is primary hyperparathyroidism?

Your parathyroid glands produce parathyroid hormone (PTH). Primary hyperparathyroidism is when one or more of the parathyroid glands makes too much PTH. This can lead to bone tissue loss. This condition is more common in women than in men.

PTH keeps blood calcium levels from going too low. It does this by releasing calcium from bones. The hormone also conserves calcium that would be given off by the kidneys. And it increases how much calcium is absorbed from food. Too much PTH causes too much calcium to be released from bone. And the level of calcium in your blood rises.

What causes primary hyperparathyroidism?

In some cases, no cause can be found. Some known causes include noncancer (benign) tumors on the parathyroid glands, or enlargement of the glands. When there is a benign tumor in a parathyroid gland, it is called a parathyroid adenoma. When more than one gland becomes enlarged, it is called parathyroid hyperplasia. Both of these conditions are noncancer.

What are the symptoms of primary hyperparathyroidism?

Each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms of too much calcium in the blood may include:

  • Constipation
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Joint pain
  • Kidney pain (due to the presence of kidney stones)
  • Lack of energy and extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle weakness

Other serious symptoms may include:

  • Belly pain
  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

The symptoms of primary hyperparathyroidism may look like other health problems. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is primary hyperparathyroidism diagnosed?

The condition may not have any symptoms or complications. Sometimes this problem is found during a routine blood test as part of a physical exam.

You'll likely have additional blood tests done to check the levels of calcium and PTH. You'll also probably have urine tests to check on the level of calcium in your urine and to check your kidney function. Your healthcare provider may want you to have a sestamibi scan or ultrasound study of your neck. This could detect a parathyroid adenoma. You may also have dual X-ray absorptiometry. This test is also called bone densitometry. It is done to determine bone density and to reveal loss of bone tissue (as can occur with hyperparathyroidism.) It is also used to help your healthcare provider to keep an eye on the condition. Testing can also help decide if surgery may be needed.

How is primary hyperparathyroidism treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Surgery to remove the affected gland may be needed. Treatment may include regular bone densitometry testing to reveal loss of bone tissue.

Key points about primary hyperparathyroidism

  • Primary hyperparathyroidism is when one or more of the parathyroid glands makes too much hormone. This can lead to bone tissue loss.
  • This condition is more common in women than in men.
  • Some known causes include noncancer (benign) tumors on the parathyroid glands or enlargement of the glands.
  • Symptoms include loss of appetite, increased thirst, frequent urination, lack of energy and extreme tiredness (fatigue), muscle weakness, joint pain, constipation, and kidney pain
  • Treatment may include regular bone densitometry testing to reveal bone tissue loss and to decide if surgery may be needed.
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