Understanding your parathyroid glands

21 March 2018
 Categories: , Blog

If your doctor has recommended you have parathyroid surgery, you may be filled with questions about your condition and need for surgery. Here's a basic explanation of the role of your parathyroid glands in sustaining the health of your body.

What are thyroid and parathyroid glands?

Your thyroid gland lies in the centre of your throat, just in front of your windpipe. The thyroid's job is to take iodine from the food you eat and control your body's use of energy. There are four very small glands that sit behind your thyroid, and these are the parathyroid glands. Their task is to produce a hormone, simply called parathyroid hormone, that regulates the quantity of calcium in your blood.

Although your thyroid and parathyroid glands are neighbours, they have distinctly different roles. When problems arise, patients see parathyroid surgeons for parathyroid treatment and thyroid surgeons for thyroid treatment.

Why is calcium regulation necessary?

Your parathyroid glands are important because, without their help in controlling the amount of calcium in your bones, blood and entire body, many of your bodily systems would function poorly.

The pivotal role played by your parathyroid glands is highlighted by the fact that calcium is the only mineral or element in your entire body that has a system dedicated solely to controlling it.

Calcium is responsible for:

  • Keeping your bones strong throughout your life.

  • Providing your body with the electrical energy your nervous system needs to function properly.

  • Charging your muscles with electricity so that they can remain strong and work to their full potential.

Why do I need parathyroid surgery?

Because your parathyroid glands play such a crucial role in regulating your health, it is important to address the issue when one or more of these glands malfunction.

A parathyroid malfunction most commonly takes the form of a harmless tumour. This can cause the gland to create more parathyroid hormone than necessary, transferring the calcium stored in your bones to your blood and causing you to feel fatigued, weak and achy.

The only way to treat a damaged parathyroid gland is by having it removed by a dedicated parathyroid surgeon. If left untreated, a poorly operating parathyroid gland could lead you to develop serious osteoporosis and increase your risk of cancers of the prostate, breast, kidneys or colon.

While nobody looks forward to surgery, there are two things you need to know about parathyroid surgery that may ease your mind. First, when parathyroid glands do malfunction, it is usually only one of the four that will stop operating correctly and need to be removed. This is wonderful news because your body can continue to function well with as little as half a parathyroid gland. Second, parathyroid surgeons specialise in treating parathyroid glands, and advances have made surgical treatments brief, minimally invasive and safe.

So trust in your surgeon to treat your condition, and once your surgery is over you'll be glad to put it all behind you.