What is hypoparathyroidism?
Hypoparathyroidism occurs when one or more of your parathyroid glands are underactive. You have 4 of these tiny glands. Each one is about the size of a pea. They are found in your neck, next to the thyroid gland. They keep the amount of calcium in your blood in a normal range. They also keep the levels of magnesium and phosphorus normal. If these glands are underactive, they don't make enough parathyroid hormone (PTH). This lowers the calcium level in your blood.
What causes hypoparathyroidism?
The most common cause is injury to or removal of your parathyroid glands. That can happen during surgery to remove the thyroid. Some people are born without these glands. Or the glands don't work as well because of inherited diseases or for unknown reasons. In some people, the cells don't respond to parathyroid hormone. This condition is called pseudohypoparathyroidism. Sometimes hypoparathyroidism is caused by radiation treatments to the neck, for neck cancer.
What are symptoms of hypoparathyroidism?
Symptoms are different for each person. The most common ones are:
- Uncontrollable, painful spasms of your face, hands, arms, and feet
- A burning or prickling feeling (pins and needles) in your hands and feet, and around your mouth
These symptoms may look like other health problems. Children with undiagnosed hypoparathyroidism may have delayed tooth development and lots of cavities. They may also have a delay in mental development. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is hypoparathyroidism diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your past health. You will also need a physical exam. Blood tests can also measure your calcium, phosphorus, and parathyroid hormone levels. You may need other tests.
How is hypoparathyroidism treated?
Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
An IV (intravenous) infusion of calcium may be able to ease your symptoms right away if your calcium levels are very low. You may also need to take calcium and vitamin D pills. You may also need to eat foods high in calcium and stay away from foods that are high in phosphorus. Parathyroid hormone shots (injections) may also be needed.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Tell your healthcare provider if your symptoms get worse. Also call your provider if you have new symptoms.
Key points about hypoparathyroidism
- Hypoparathyroidism happens when 1 or more of your parathyroid glands are not active enough. They don’t make enough parathyroid hormone. This lowers the calcium level in your blood.
- The most common cause is injury to or removal of your parathyroid glands. That can happen during surgery to remove the thyroid.
- Symptoms may include painful spasms of your face, hands, arms, and feet. They may also include a burning or prickling feeling in your hands and feet, and around your mouth.
- Blood tests can spot low levels of calcium and parathyroid hormones and high levels of phosphate.
- An IV (intravenous) infusion of calcium may be needed to ease your symptoms right away if your calcium levels are very low. You may also need to take calcium and vitamin D pills.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.