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Hyperparathyroidism - Types, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Published on Jul 11, 2022 and last reviewed on Aug 11, 2022   -  6 min read


Hyperparathyroidism is a disorder in which the parathyroid glands produce too much parathyroid hormone (PTH). Read the article to know more about the condition.

Hyperparathyroidism - Types, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment


Parathyroid glands are four pea-sized glands located in the neck behind the thyroid gland, two on each side. Parathyroid glands secrete a hormone called parathyroid hormone (PTH) or parathormone, which is responsible for regulating the calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D levels in the blood. Calcium is an essential mineral with a regulatory system that is monitored by the parathyroid glands. Calcium is not only responsible for bone health but also plays a vital role in the functioning of the heart, muscles, and nerves.

What Is Hyperparathyroidism?

Hyperparathyroidism is a disorder in which the parathyroid glands become overactive and secrete an excess of parathyroid hormone (PTH), leading to increased calcium levels in the blood known as hypercalcemia.

What Is the Role of Calcium in the Body?

The following are the functions of calcium in the body:

  • Formation of solid bones and teeth.

  • Channel for transmission of impulses along nerves.

  • Maintaining regular rhythmic activity of the heart.

  • Muscle contraction.

  • Formation of blood clots.

The average intake required for normal body functioning is 1000 to 1500 milligrams of calcium per day.

What Are the Types of Hyperparathyroidism?

There are three types of hyperparathyroidism, namely primary, secondary and tertiary.

  1. Primary Hyperparathyroidism: Primary hyperparathyroidism occurs due to the overactivity of one or more parathyroid glands that leads to excess secretion of parathyroid hormone (PTH).
  2. Secondary Hyperparathyroidism: Secondary hyperparathyroidism occurs due to a decrease in blood calcium levels caused by underlying conditions and not an overactive parathyroid gland.
  3. Tertiary Hyperparathyroidism: Tertiary hyperparathyroidism is when the glands keep producing excess PTH even after the blood calcium levels have reached normal. Patients with kidney disorders may have tertiary hyperparathyroidism.

What Are the Causes of Hyperparathyroidism?

Causes of primary hyperparathyroidism include:

Causes of secondary hyperparathyroidism include:

  • Chronic Kidney Disease: This is the most common cause of secondary hyperparathyroidism. Kidneys help the body convert vitamin D into a more usable form. Long-term kidney disease affects the functioning of vitamin D, thereby leading to a calcium deficiency.

  • Calcium Deficiency: Severe calcium deficiency occurs due to the inability of the body to absorb calcium from food or an increase in the amount of calcium excreted.

  • Vitamin D Deficiency: The body receives vitamin D when exposed to sunlight and also through diet. It helps the body absorb calcium from the intestines. The deficiency of vitamin D leads to a calcium deficit in the blood, thereby causing the parathyroids to secrete excess PTH.

What Are the Risk Factors for Hyperparathyroidism?

A person is at an increased risk for hyperparathyroidism in the following cases:

  1. A female who has gone through menopause.

  2. A calcium or vitamin D deficiency is present for a long time.

  3. Radiation therapy for the treatment of neck cancers.

  4. An inherited disorder called multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 is a condition that causes multiple tumors in the pituitary and parathyroid glands and the pancreas.

  5. Lithium therapy is used for the treatment of the bipolar disorder, a serious mental illness that causes mood swings.

What Are the Symptoms of Hyperparathyroidism?

Hyperparathyroidism is diagnosed by blood tests before any visible symptoms occur. Symptoms start to appear when the condition has progressed and starts showing an effect on various other body functions. There is a dysfunction of the other tissues or organs due to increased calcium levels in blood and loss of calcium from bones.

The symptoms that occur in hyperparathyroidism include:

  • Kidney stones.

  • Osteoporosis (a condition in which the bones become weak and tend to fracture easily).

  • Pain in the abdomen.

  • Excessive urination.

  • Nausea and vomiting.

  • Lack of appetite.

  • Fatigue.

  • Memory loss.

  • Depression.

  • High blood pressure.

What Are the Complications of Hyperparathyroidism?

Long term effects that occur due to too less calcium in the bones and too high calcium in the blood include:

  1. Bones that become weak and fracture easily.

  2. High blood pressure leads to heart diseases.

  3. Chronic kidney disease.

  4. Neonatal hypoparathyroidism (a condition in newborn babies who have very low levels of parathyroid hormone due to untreated hyperparathyroidism in pregnant mothers).

How Is Hyperparathyroidism Diagnosed?

The doctors advise specific diagnostic tests after they take the medical history and complete a physical examination. These tests help to know the cause of the condition. The following diagnostic tests are advised by the doctor, which includes:

  • Blood Tests: Blood tests are used to determine the levels of calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D, and parathyroid hormone.

  • Bone Mineral Density Test: This test is used to determine the bone loss that occurs due to hyperparathyroidism. The most common test that measures bone mineral density is dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA).

  • Urine Test: A 24-hour urine test is done to determine the calcium levels in urine over 24 hours. This test helps assess the severity of hyperparathyroidism or helps know about an underlying kidney disease that is causing the symptoms. If the calcium levels in urine are not too high, then the condition may not require treatment.

  • Imaging Tests: The doctor may order X-rays or an ultrasound scan of the abdomen to detect kidney stones or any underlying kidney disorders.

  • Sestamibi Parathyroid Scan: Overactive parathyroid glands absorb a radioactive compound called sestamibi. The doctors use a scanner to detect the radioactivity due to absorbed sestamibi. Apart from the parathyroid glands, the thyroid also can absorb sestamibi. Iodine is used to prevent the uptake by the thyroid gland. Therefore, the thyroid gets masked digitally, revealing the uptake of sestamibi by the parathyroids.

  • Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan: A combination of CT scan and sestamibi scan may help detect the abnormality more clearly.

What Are the Treatment Options for Hyperparathyroidism?

Treatment for hyperparathyroidism can include a wait and watch approach, medications, or surgery.

  • Wait and Watch Approach:

The doctors recommend waiting before starting any treatment in cases where:

  1. The blood calcium levels are only slightly above normal.

  2. There are no kidney stones or kidney problems.

  3. Bone mineral density tests are almost normal or slightly below normal.

The patient may need regular monitoring periodically to keep a check on the values.

  • Medications:

Medicines used for the treatment are:

  1. Calcimimetics: These drugs mimic the calcium circulating in the bloodstream that increases the blood calcium levels confusing the overactive parathyroids to result in lesser production of PTH.

  2. Hormone Replacement: Therapy gives good results in women with osteoporosis or those undergoing menopause. However, it does not solve the underlying problem with the parathyroids. Headaches, tender breasts, and dizziness are the side effects noted in this therapy.

  3. Bisphosphonates: They work by preventing calcium loss from the bones and decreasing the chances of osteoporosis.

  • Surgery:

Surgery is done to remove the enlarged glands. It is an outpatient procedure where the patient receives local anesthesia and minor cuts (incisions) made on the neck. Damage to the vocal cords and long-term low blood calcium levels are possible risks of surgery.

  • Lifestyle Changes:

Certain lifestyle changes improve the quality of life in patients with hyperparathyroidism. They include:

  • Monitoring of blood calcium and vitamin D levels.

  • Regular exercise to strengthen bones and muscles.

  • Drinking sufficient amounts of fluids to prevent the formation of kidney stones.

  • Avoid medicines that increase the levels of calcium (diuretics and lithium).

  • Quitting smoking as it harms bone health.


Parathyroid glands are one of the essential glands that secrete parathormone, which regulates the calcium levels in the body. As calcium levels determine nerve, muscle, heart, bone, and brain health, the PTH levels need regular monitoring. A healthy diet, regular exercise, and follow-ups with the doctor play a pivotal role in maintaining good health. Hyperparathyroidism can be managed well in most cases with the help of medicines, lifestyle changes, and regular doctor check-ups. If surgery is advised, the doctor recommends testing the calcium and PTH levels every six to eight weeks, followed by a yearly check-up.

Last reviewed at:
11 Aug 2022  -  6 min read




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