Illustration showing rear view of thyroid and parathyroid glands

If you are seeing a surgeon for a problem with your parathyroid glands, it is likely that one or more of the glands are producing too much parathyroid hormone (PTH). Normally, if the calcium level in the blood is low, the parathyroid glands sense this and release PTH. PTH then causes release of calcium from the bones and increased absorption of calcium from the intestines. If the calcium level is too high, then PTH secretion should decrease to a very low level. In primary hyperparathyroidism, the parathyroid glands continue producing PTH even as the calcium level becomes higher than normal, and this can cause complications.

When the parathyroid hormone level is higher than it should be for what the calcium level is, this is called primary hyperparathyroidism. There are two other types of hyperparathyroidism called secondary and tertiary hyperparathyroidism. In secondary hyperparathyroidism, something in the body is causing the parathyroid glands to produce extra PTH. Tertiary hyperparathyroidism is generally seen in patients after a kidney transplant.

Diagnosis of Hyperparathyroidism

We diagnose parathyroid disorders through comprehensive testing that starts with a complete history and physical exam. Diagnosis of the type of hyperparathyroidism is based on blood work and other types of laboratory testing. Imaging tests are not used to diagnose parathyroid disorders, but may be ordered once the presence of a parathyroid disorder has been confirmed by lab tests.