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Parathyroiditis is the inflammation of one or more of the four parathyroid glands located on either side of the neck. The parathyroid glands are tiny, usually ranging from as small as a grain of rice to the size of a corn kernel. Parathyroiditis is a symptom of hyperparathyroid disease, which results in high calcium levels in the blood. In most cases, the inflamed parathyroid gland develops a benign tumor that should be removed surgically.
The only purpose of the four parathyroid glands is to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphorus in the body. When the glands detect low levels of calcium in the blood, they secrete a hormone called parathyroid hormone (PTH). The PTH travels to the bones of the body to remove calcium and transfer it to the bloodstream. PTH regulates the calcium secreted in the urine and the amount of calcium absorbed from the small intestines. Calcium is necessary for the proper functioning of the central nervous system and for bone strength.
Usually only one of the four parathyroid glands is enlarged at a time. Parathyroiditis causes the gland to produce too much PTH, which results in excess calcium being released into the bloodstream. The increased calcium has detrimental effects on the central nervous system and can cause an irregular heartbeat. Other symptoms of hyperparathyroidism are fatigue, depression, kidney stones, headaches, and bone pain.
Parathyroid inflammation is classified as an autoimmune process. Eventually, the overproduction of PTH can cause calcium deficits in the bones and lead to osteoporosis. It may take several years after the removal of the inflamed gland before it is possible to regain bone density. Nearly all persons with hyperparathyroidism will develop osteoporosis if the condition is left untreated.
Blood tests will reveal elevated levels of calcium, called hypercalcemia, and high levels of PTH signaling parathyroiditis. The usual method of treatment is the surgical removal of the affected parathyroid gland. The surgery is a minimally invasive procedure conducted under general anesthesia. Although most people only need to have one parathyroid gland removed, it is possible to live normally with only one-half of one parathyroid gland remaining after surgery.
There is a 95 percent cure rate for hyperparathyroid disease after surgery. Some medical professionals believe that there is a direct correlation between untreated hyperparathyroid disease and developing other types of cancer. Those with a history of untreated hyperparathyroidism are more likely to report a later diagnosis of prostate or breast cancer.