The 4 parathyroid glands are located near or attached to the back side of the thyroid gland. The parathyroid glands secrete a hormone that controls blood levels of calcium.
Parathyroidectomy is recommended when one or more of the parathyroid glands are producing excessive amounts of parathyroid hormone (PTH). This condition is called hyperparathyroidism.
Hyperparathyroidism leads to excess calcium levels in the blood, which may result in symptoms such as muscle spasm or tetany, bone loss (osteoporosis), kidney disease, including kidney stones, psychiatric problems, including depression, irritability, fatigue, and anxiety, as well as abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.
An incision is made in the neck, usually just under the Adam's apple. The 4 parathyroid glands are located and the abnormal parathyroid glands are removed. The incision is then closed.
In a partial parathyroidectomy, 1 to 3 of the glands are removed, leaving one to help prevent the body from producing too little parathyroid hormone (PTH). This condition is called hypoparathyroidism.
In a total parathyroidectomy, all 4 glands are removed. In some cases, the surgeon will implant parathyroid tissue in the forearm muscle of the patient to provide residual parathyroid function.
The incision usually heals very well and there will be a light scar. Normal activity can usually be resumed within a few days.
Reviewed By: Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, general surgery practice specializing in breast cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.