What is Hyperparathyroidism?

3 min read  |  October 02, 2018  | 

Ladies, are you tired, achy, forgetful, (and over 50)? It may not be menopause.

The first thing to do: Get your calcium levels checked to see if they are high. If you recently had blood tests done and they showed high calcium levels, don’t shrug it off or blame it on the calcium pills you take every day to strengthen your bones.

You may suffer from hyperparathyroidism, which should not be confused with hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.*

“The parathyroid glands are small glands in your neck that produce hormones that regulate the balance of calcium in your body. And when they are not functioning properly it throws your calcium levels off,” says Dr. Josefina Farrá, an endocrine surgeon with the University of Miami Health System.

Hyperparathyroidism is often caused by one or more of the glands becoming enlarged, possibly because of a benign tumor. It is the leading cause of high calcium levels in the blood and, without treatment, can cause osteoporosis, kidney stones, and cardiovascular disease.

There are two types of the disease.

  • Primary hyperparathyroidism: caused by a benign tumor on one or more of the glands or when one or more of the glands are enlarged.
  • Secondar hyperparathyroidism: may be caused by chronic kidney failure or severe vitamin D deficiency.

Primary hyperparathyroidism is not uncommon, affecting more than 200,000 Americans a year. And 75% of those are women.

Most symptoms are subtle

“Often patients don’t realize that they have hyperparathyroidism and may have had it for years,” says Dr. Farrá. “They get blood work done for a yearly physical or for another health concern. That is when they notice the high calcium levels.”

Symptoms can include feeling tired all the time or experiencing muscle weakness and aches. It can even cause depression and forgetfulness. And, since the most common sufferers are women around the age of 50, many just assume the symptoms are associated with menopause.

“Although the symptoms of hyperparathyroidism are subtle, they can add up to a big impact on quality of life,” says Dr. Farra. “Once the condition is corrected, some patients feel better than they have in a long time.”

A blood test, created in Miami, makes treatment almost 100% effective

Treatment for the disease is quick; the gland is removed through a small incision – about 4 cm – in the lower part of your neck, says Dr. Farrá. The surgery is performed in an outpatient setting. And, thanks to a blood test that was developed by a surgeon at the University of Miami, it has an almost 100% cure rate.

“The Miami Criterion is a rapid blood test where we test for the level of parathyroid hormone in the blood pre-incision and then again at several intervals after the abnormal parathyroid gland is removed,” says Dr. Farrá. “By doing this test during the procedure, we know right away that we have removed the correct gland and confirmed that the patient is cured of the condition.”

Dr. Farrá and her team perform more than 200 of these procedures, as well as other endocrine surgical procedures (thyroid and adrenal), every year.

*Hypothyroidism occurs when the body lacks sufficient thyroid hormone. Hyperthyroidism is the result of an overactive gland.

Written by Natasha Bright, a contributor for UMiami Health News.

Tags: Dr. Josefina Farrá, hyperparathyroidism, parathyroid glands

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