Hypoparathyroidism

Definition

Hypoparathyroidism is a disorder in which the parathyroid glands in the neck do not produce enough parathyroid hormone (PTH).

Alternative Names

Parathyroid-related hypocalcemia

Causes

There are 4 tiny parathyroid glands in the neck, located near or attached to the back side of the thyroid gland.

The parathyroid glands help control calcium absorption, use, and removal by the body. They do this by producing parathyroid hormone (PTH). PTH helps control calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D levels in the blood and bone. It is important for healthy bones.

Hypoparathyroidism occurs when the glands produce too little PTH. The blood calcium level falls, and the phosphorus level rises.

The most common cause of hypoparathyroidism is injury to the parathyroid glands during thyroid or neck surgery. It may also be caused by any of the following:

DiGeorge syndrome is a disease in which hypoparathyroidism occurs because all the parathyroid glands are missing at birth. This disease includes other health problems besides hypoparathyroidism. It is usually diagnosed in childhood.

Familial hypoparathyroidism occurs with other endocrine diseases such as adrenal insufficiency in a syndrome called type I polyglandular autoimmune syndrome (PGA I).

Symptoms

Onset of the disease is very gradual and symptoms can be mild. Many people diagnosed with hypoparathyroidism have had symptoms for years before they are diagnosed. Symptoms may be so mild that the diagnosis is made after a screening blood test that shows low calcium.

Symptoms may include any of the following:

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will do a physical exam and ask about symptoms.

Tests that will be done include:

Other tests that may be ordered include:

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to reduce symptoms and restore the calcium and mineral balance in the body.

Treatment involves calcium carbonate and vitamin D supplements. These usually must be taken for life. Blood levels are measured regularly to make sure that the dose is correct. A high-calcium, low-phosphorous diet is recommended.

Injections of PTH may be recommended for some people. Your doctor can tell you if this medicine is right for you.

People who have life-threatening attacks of low calcium levels or prolonged muscle contractions are given calcium through a vein (IV). Precautions are taken to prevent seizures or larynx spasms. The heart is monitored for abnormal rhythms until the person is stable. When the life-threatening attack has been controlled, treatment continues with medicine taken by mouth.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The outcome is likely to be good if the diagnosis is made early. But changes in the teeth, cataracts, and brain calcifications cannot be reversed in children who have undiagnosed hypoparathyroidism during development.

Possible Complications

Hypoparathyroidism in children may lead to poor growth, abnormal teeth, and slow mental development.

Too much treatment with vitamin D and calcium can cause high blood calcium (hypercalcemia) or high urine calcium (hypercalciuria). Excess treatment may sometimes interfere with kidney function, or even cause kidney failure.

Hypoparathyroidism increases the risk for:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your provider if you develop any symptoms of hypoparathyroidism.

Seizures or breathing problems are an emergency. Call 911 or the local emergency number right away.

References

Clarke BL, Brown EM, Collins MT, et al. Epidemiology and diagnosis of hypoparathyroidism. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2016;101(6):2284-2299. PMID: 26943720 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26943720/.

Reid LM, Kamani D, Randolph GW. Management of parathyroid disorders. In: Flint PW, Francis HW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 123.

Thakker RV. The parathyroid glands, hypercalcemia and hypocalcemia. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 232.


Review Date: 4/29/2022
Reviewed By: Sandeep K. Dhaliwal, MD, board-certified in Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolism, Springfield, VA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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