Know your parathyroid glands

By Dr Harold Gunatillake - Health Writer

“If you have tingling of fingers , numbness, crampy leg muscles, irritability, depression, signs of asthma, hoarseness, losing voice and difficulty in swallowing- this is the article you must read”- Dr Harold

You are aware of the thyroid glands that sits on your trachea (wind-pipe) in the lower part of your neck, but you are not aware that attached to the four corners of the thyroid lobes behind, are 4 minute yellow spots which needs preservation even when your thyroid glands are removed for nodular enlargement or other disease processes. When you remove your thyroid gland the surgeons call it a subtotal or partial thyroidectomy because the need to remove the gland close to the parathyroid must be preserved. These glands are hidden behind the thyroid lobes.

Parathyroid glands though they are small and insignificant play a great role in the endocrine orchestra.

They keep your bones strong, nervous system in trim condition for its functions and also contraction of skeletal muscles.

These four minute glands release a hormone called ‘parathyroid hormone’ (PTH), which controls previously mentioned structures of your body.

Calcium is a very important element in your blood stream, and you need in order to live. This element is monitored and controlled by the parathyroid hormone secreted by the parathyroid glands. In fact the sole purpose of the gland is to control calcium within the blood. Parathyroid glands have no connection with the thyroid glands. Thyroid gland regulates the body’s metabolism and has no effect on calcium level controlled by parathyroid glands.

Calcium is required to conduct electrical impulses in the nervous system and used in muscles for energy and to make your bones strong.

Around 1 in 100 people of all ages and 1 in 50 in women over 50 can develop growths (tumours) in the glands like in other glands and tissues of the body. Unlike in other glands these growths are innocent and referred to as adenomas and most are hereditary running in families.

This growth can over produce the hormone (PTH) creating high levels of calcium in your body and may cause many abnormalities. This condition is referred to as ‘Hyperparathyroidism’

There could be stone formations in the kidney in hyperparathyroidism. Surgical removal of the growth is a cure.

On the contrary the parathyroid glands may under-secrete the hormone- then referred to as ‘hypoparathyroidism’ This condition is rare and can be cured palliative with vitamin D and oral calcium tablets.

Infants born with diabetes or preeclampsia mothers may have deficient calcium levels. Low levels are also found in mothers who have hyper parathyroid situations.

Neuromuscular symptoms to diagnose under secretion of the hormones include: Numbness and tingling sensation around the mouth or in the fingers and toes are early signs of hypo parathyroidism/

You may get muscle cramps, particularly in the back and legs and may progress into spasms or tetany. Sometimes, wheezing may develop into bronchospasm and present like asthma. Sometime, you may find difficulty to swallow (dysphagia) and voice may change (laryngo-spasms)

If you have any of the above early symptoms do not neglect and assume you would get better in a few days. See your doctor and get calcium levels checked up in your blood and the condition can be fully cured.

The neurological symptoms that you may start with includes: Irritability, depression, fatigue, seizures and other uncontrollable movements. These symptoms are due to deficiency in calcium in your blood.

If not treated in the initial stages of the symptoms the condition could become chronic: they are coarse hair, brittle nails, and skin rashes like psoriasis, itchiness and lastly cataract

As one grows older the parathyroid gland may not secretes its hormone sufficiently. To aid the parathyroid glands it is a good idea to eat healthy foods containing calcium and vitamin D by checking on your blood levels annually.

Milk, Cheese, Yogurt, Kale, Spinach and broccoli are good sources of calcium.

Fish, Beef liver, Mushrooms cereals and oranges are good sources of vitamin D, in addition to the exposure to the UV rays of the sun.

Conclusions: Be aware of this rare condition affecting your parathyroid glands exhibiting the symptoms mentioned. Now think about it before you become a hypochondriac.

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