The Endocrine Surgery Program at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin, provides nationally recognized care and innovative services to our patients. Learn about our approach to parathyroid conditions and their treatments through the frequently asked questions below.
Also, watch our videos for a series of common questions about parathyroid conditions, answered by our expert endocrine surgeons.
What is a parathyroid gland? What does it do?
A. The parathyroid gland controls the calcium in your body.
What kinds of problems can a parathyroid gland cause?
A. The sole purpose of the parathyroid glad is to control calcium in the blood and bones. Too much calcium can cause a person to feel run down, moody, have difficulty sleeping or even have a decreased memory.
How do I find a good parathyroid surgeon?
A. It is important to find an experienced surgeon who devotes a significant portion of their practice to parathyroid treatment. Our surgeons at UW Health are experienced and dedicated to parathyroid surgery.
What other conditions may involve a parathyroid evaluation?
A. PTH is the most frequently ordered parathyroid hormone test used to diagnose the cause of low or high calcium levels and helps distinguish between parathyroid-related and non-parathyroid-related causes. It can also be used to monitor the effectiveness of treatment when an individual has a parathyroid-related condition. PTH is routinely monitored for people with chronic kidney disease for people on dialysis.
What other factors can cause a calcium elevation?
A. High levels of calcium aren't always from parathyroids. Your diet and medication you take can elevate your calcium levels.
What is an adenoma?
A. An adenoma is a non-cancerous growth that occurs in one of the parathyroid glands.
What is parathyroid hyperplasia?
A. Parathyroid hyperplasia is an extremely rare condition in which all four parathyroid glands become enlarged.
How do you make a diagnosis of primary hyperparathyroidism?
A. Diagnosis of hyperparathyroidism is made through a number of lab tests. Your doctor will determine if your calcium levels are too high and will repeat the test to confirm the results after you have not eaten for a period of time.
What are some symptoms of hyperparathyroidism?
A. Hyperparathyroidism symptoms are varied and can include fragile bones, kidney stones, excessive urination, abdominal pain, fatigue or weakness, depression or forgetfulness, bone and joint pain, nausea, vomiting or loss of appetite.
Is hyperparathyroidism associated with parathyroid cancer?
A. Parathyroid cancer is very rare. Only about one percent of parathyroid patients have parathyroid cancer.
What is the treatment for parathyroid cancer?
A. The most common treatment options for a parathyroid tumor are surgery, radiation therapy and treatment of hypercalcemia. Chemotherapy may also be recommended. Treatment will include efforts to both eliminate the tumor and control the amount of calcium in the patient's bloodstream.
What are the risks of parathyroidectomy?
A. Complications with a parathyroidectomy are rare when the surgery is performed by an experienced surgeon. The main risks of parathyroidectomy are having low calcium or difficulties with your voice afterward. Learn more about parathyroid surgery
What imaging tests should I get before my parathyroid surgery?
A. People who have already been diagnosed with hyperparathyroidism will undergo one or more imaging studies to identify the enlarged parathyroid in preparation for surgery. Your physician will discuss the types of imaging you may receive. Learn more about parathyroid surgery
What is a radioguided parathyroidectomy?
A. Radioguided parathyroidectomy is a minimally-invasive technique using a small probe. This probe allows the surgeon to find the hyperactive parathyroid tumor using a small incision versus exposing both sides of the thyroid.
What is a minimally invasive parathyroidectomy?
A. A minimally invasive parathyroidectomy is a type of surgery in which a small incision is made directly over a single abnormal parathyroid gland. This is in contrast to looking through a larger incision at your thyroid gland in the surrounding tissue.
What is a bilateral exploration?
A. Bilateral neck exploration involves exploring all four organs of the parathyroid for enlarged or diseased parts. The surgeons will determine which organs are in need of removal based on its size and appearance.
What is the best surgical approach for parathyroid disease?
A. It is important to find the approach that you and your surgeon are most comfortable with for the best outcome. Learn more about parathyroid surgery
What should I expect after parathyroid surgery?
A. Typical recovery from surgery is short and pain is minimal. The most common complaint is fatigue, sore throat or general soreness, which usually goes away within a week or two. Learn more about parathyroid surgery
What impact will parathyroid surgery have on my bones?
A. Removing a bad parathyroid gland can increase bone density dramatically.
Will parathyroid surgery make me feel any better?
A. You will notice a significant improvement in many of your symptoms after surgery. Hyperparathyroidism mimics the symptoms of aging. Having parathyroid surgery is a way to reverse some of those signs and make you feel better.
How many parathyroid glands should be removed?
A. A surgeon will remove only those glands that are enlarged or have a tumor.
What if the doctor can't find the parathyroid gland?
A. It is rare to not be able to find the parathyroid gland. If this happens, your parathyroid gland is probably in an abnormal location, like very high in your neck or very low down in your chest. In those scenarios, your doctor will need more imaging to locate exactly where your parathyroid gland is.
What should I do if my parathyroid surgery was unsuccessful?
A. Parathyroid surgery has a very high success rate and is successful 95-98 percent of the time. An unsuccessful surgery does not mean that you cannot be cured. Your surgeon will confirm that you have received the right diagnosis and will figure out what additional imaging is required so your future surgery is successful.
What is the risk that my parathyroid problem will come back?
A. Parathyroid surgery has a very high success rate and is successful 95-98 percent of the time. After having parathyroid surgery, you should undergo surveillance of calcium levels once a year.
How do I know if I am cured?
A. Surgery will cure nearly all cases of hyperparathyroidism. If you have surgery, your doctor may want to check your calcium and PTH levels six weeks after surgery, and then on a yearly basis. You may also have a bone density test every year, as well.