Most people have four pea-sized glands, called parathyroid glands, on the thyroid gland in the neck. Though their names are similar, the thyroid and parathyroid glands are completely different. The parathyroid glands make parathyroid hormone (PTH), which helps your body keep the right balance of calcium and phosphorous.
If your parathyroid glands make too much or too little hormone, it disrupts this balance. If they secrete extra PTH, you have hyperparathyroidism, and your blood calcium rises. In many cases, a benign tumor on a parathyroid gland makes it overactive. Or, the extra hormones can come from enlarged parathyroid glands. Very rarely, the cause is cancer.
If you do not have enough PTH, you have hypoparathyroidism. Your blood will have too little calcium and too much phosphorous. Causes include injury to the glands, endocrine disorders, or genetic conditions. Treatment is aimed at restoring the balance of calcium and phosphorous. (NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease)
Dr. Tom Connally is the Medical Director of the Norman Regional Health System Endocrine Surgery Program and a pioneer in the area of minimally-invasive thyroid and parathyroid surgeries. He is also an active member of the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons.
For more information about endocrine diseases and surgical options, please visit http://endocrinediseases.org/