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The main effects of elevated parathyroid hormone (PTH) are a depletion of calcium from the bones, and an elevation of blood calcium levels, called hypercalcemia. Calcium in the kidneys and bladder can also build in concentration and create bladder or kidney stones. There are many other possible symptoms of large amounts of this hormone, but not all individuals experience or notice them. Generally, the best way to determine the presence of elevated PTH is to test for it, and compare test results to blood calcium levels. This can lead to a determination of how to treat the disorder.
PTH serves several important functions in the body. It extracts calcium stored in bones and redistributes it to blood. At the same time, the hormone prevents the bladder and kidneys from getting rid of too much calcium, so that a stable level of the mineral is preserved. When the parathyroid glands work as they should, PTH stops being produced until the body needs more calcium. Elevated parathyroid hormone means the glands are producing too much and are ignoring the signals that blood calcium is also elevated.
When parathyroid hormone is present in excess, it begins to rob the bones of extra calcium stores. This has a pronounced effect on bone mass and bone growth, and if undiagnosed hyperparathyroidism persists, osteoporosis can result. The kidneys may also not be able to shed excess levels of calcium, resulting in the development of painful bladder or kidney stones.
In addition, hypercalcemia occurs, which doesn’t always result in patient symptoms. High calcium can sometimes cause noticeable effects. Among these are increased urination and thirst, vomiting or nausea, constipation, and fatigue. Some people additionally experience depression, sore muscles or a reduction of appetite.
If the elevated parathyroid hormone is not noticed, other dangerous symptoms of hypercalcemia can result. In severe cases, heart arrythmias may occur. Alternately, the extra calcium may cause neurological symptoms, like extreme confusion or coma.
It is fairly easy to test for elevated parathyroid hormone. A simple blood test that may require 8 to 10 hours of food abstention can evaluate PTH. At the same time, serum calcium levels can also be checked to help determine the reason why the parathyroid gland is not working properly.
Usually there are two potential causes of elevated parathyroid hormone. Growths on the parathyroid glands may cause PTH production to be abnormally high. Alternately, certain diseases like kidney dysfunction may affect how well the glands work.
Removing a growth can normalize PTH. If the whole parathyroid structure must be removed, which is seldom necessary, patients would need to take extra calcium, since they would then lack the hormone needed to derive this substance from bones. Treating underlying kidney disease or other potential outside causes may also reduce elevated parathyroid hormone.