Your parathyroid glands are four rice-sized glands in your neck that regulate your body's calcium levels by producing parathyroid hormone (PTH). PTH breaks down your bones, which store most of your body's calcium, and releases it into your bloodstream. Excess PTH increases your body's ability to absorb calcium from the foods you eat and makes your kidneys hold calcium that would otherwise be flushed from your body in your urine.
Normal parathyroid glands balance your body's calcium levels. If your blood calcium level gets too high, your parathyroids will stop secreting PTH, and if your blood calcium level dips too low, PTH is released to bring that level back to normal. Balancing the calcium in your blood is important to maintain your heart, kidneys and bones.
If your parathyroid glands aren't functioning properly, parathyroid surgery might be an option for you.
The best predictor of successful parathyroid surgery is an experienced surgeon. And our expert team performs among the highest volume of parathyroid surgeries in the nation. No matter how complex your condition, we've likely seen it and treated it before. You can be confident that you're getting the highest quality care — and the best possible outcomes — to treat your parathyroid condition.
At Penn Medicine, some of the parathyroid conditions we see and treat with surgery include:
Primary hyperparathyroidism, also called overactive parathyroid, is a condition that occurs when one or more of the four parathyroid glands makes and secretes excess hormones. Secondary hyperparathyroidism can happen if kidney failure causes the parathyroid glands to become overactive.
A noncancerous tumor (adenoma) or enlargement of one or more of your parathyroid glands are the most common causes of hyperparathyroidism. In very rare cases, hyperparathyroidism can be caused by parathyroid cancer.
Symptoms of hyperparathyroidism include fragile bones (osteoporosis), trouble sleeping, kidney stones, abdominal pain, excessive urination, and joint pain and muscle weakness.
Too much PTH causes blood calcium levels to rise (hypercalcemia). Excess PTH also makes your intestines absorb too much calcium from the foods you eat. If left untreated, hypercalcemia caused by hyperparathyroidism can be serious and in some cases life-threatening.
Surgery is the only way to cure primary hyperparathyroidism.
Parathyroid cancer is an extremely rare disease, with fewer than 100 cases per year in the United States. Certain inherited disorders, including familial isolated hyperparathyroidism or multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 syndrome, can increase your risk of developing parathyroid cancer.
Patients with parathyroid cancer may have symptoms including fatigue, muscle weakness or a lump on your neck. Hyperparathyroidism caused by parathyroid cancer can cause excess calcium to build up in your blood (hypercalcemia). The hypercalcemia caused by hyperparathyroidism is more serious and life-threatening than parathyroid cancer itself, and treating hypercalcemia is as important as treating the cancer.
Learn more about the parathyroid surgery options available at Penn Medicine