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What is hyperparathyroidism and what are its causes?

One in thousand people across the world have it, but it remains undiagnosed in India in more than 99% cases.

Written by Bhavyajyoti Chilukoti |Updated : July 13, 2017 10:33 AM IST

Hyperparathyroidism is a condition, which causes excess secretion of the parathyroid hormone. One in a thousand people across the world have it, but it remains undiagnosed in India in more than 99% cases. Only 1% of patients get treatment and that too after much delay in diagnosis. As compared to men, women are at a high risk of suffering from this condition. Dr Ritesh Aagrwal, Thyroid, Endocrine, Breast & Cancer Surgeon at SL Raheja Hospital, Mumbai sheds light on what is hyperparathyroidism and its causes. Also read about 8 facts an endocrinologist wants you to know.

What is hyperparathyroidism?

Hyperparathyroidism is an excess of parathyroid hormone (PTH) in the blood due to overactivity of one or more of the body's four parathyroid glands. Situated at the base of the thyroid gland, these glands are about the size of a grain of rice. Hyperparathyroidism is broadly classified into two types- primary hyperparathyroidism and secondary hyperparathyroidism.

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If there is an excess secretion or production of PTH hormone, the condition is known as primary hyperparathyroidism. It is the most common type and surgery is the most advisable treatment for primary hyperparathyroidism.

Secondary hyperparathyroidism is the excessive secretion of PTH due to low calcium levels in the blood. This is usually associated with enlargement of the parathyroid glands. It is commonly seen in people suffering from chronic kidney disease or kidney failure.

What causes hyperparathyroidism?

Genes: Although rare, hyperparathyroidism is known to be hereditary in nature meaning it runs in the family. So if anyone in your family suffers from the condition, there is a risk that even you might acquire it.

Radiation: It is seen that radiation of the neck region (the area where the parathyroid hormones are located) when young or treatment of cancer when adult, can also cause the cells to grow, leading to hyperparathyroidism. (Read: Is radiotherapy the future of cancer treatment?)

Lithium: The long-term use of lithium is also known to cause hyperparathyroidism. Lithium was used to treat psychiatric problems, however, currently is not the most preferred treatment option.

Parathyroid hyperplasia: In this condition, the glands grow big, however, it is not because of a tumour or any underlying condition. The glands grow bigger and fatter without a known cause.

Iodine therapy: If you have been suffering from thyroid problems and have undergone radioactive iodine therapy in the for the same, then the chances are high that it can put you at risk of hyperparathyroidism. This is because parathyroid glands are situated at the base of the thyroid gland and share the same arteries and veins. So exposure to radioactive iodine can also cause hyperparathyroidism.

Cancer: One of the common causes of hyperparathyroidism is when one or two of the parathyroid glands grow into a tumour. Seen in almost half of the people suffering from hyperparathyroidism, there is no known cause of it.

Here's more on what happens when you have high PTH (parathyroid hormone) levels.

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