The human body never ceases to amaze me. Ever since I was a medical student, I was attracted to surgery of the head and neck. One of the most interesting aspects of head and neck surgery, in my opinion, is the management of parathyroid disease. My staff can attest to my excitement when I have a new patient with whom I have the opportunity to discuss this complex issue.
The parathyroid glands are 2 pair of small endocrine glands nestled behind the thyroid gland in the middle of the neck. They are diminutive, however they have a chief function in helping to regulate electrolyte balance. In fact, the cells within the gland are called “chief cells.” They secrete a hormone that helps to liberate calcium from the bony skeleton, so that the calcium can be used to power nerve and muscle function. Without enough calcium in the bloodstream, nerve and muscle (including heart) function would cease and lead to death if left untreated.
Sometimes the parathyroid glands become overactive and cause symptoms as a result of having excess calcium in the blood (including, but not limited to fatigue, depression, abdominal pain, kidney stones, bone pain). Also, the parathyroid hormone leeches calcium from the skeleton and can cause osteoporosis or brittle bones. Overactive function can be due to a tumor (usually benign and rarely malignant) or due to unregulated activity in patients with kidney disease.
When a patient is found to have elevated calcium due to overactive parathyroid function, imaging is performed to help localize the gland. Before imaging techniques became available, surgeons had to explore the entire neck to find an abnormal gland or tumor. With current technology, we can precisely localize a gland and often can remove a tumor or enlarged gland in less than an hour. We also utilize rapid hormone testing so that we can verify removal of the parathyroid gland while the patient is still in the operating room.
Just recently, I had the opportunity to help a young woman who had been suffering for years with bone fractures, osteoporosis, kidney stones, and fatigue. She did not even know that she was depressed, but after surgery she reported to me that her energy had returned and that she wanted to do activities that she had not had the energy to perform in many years. We were able to localize this patient’s tumor accurately before surgery, and therefore were able to remove it in about thirty minutes via a tiny incision just above the notch of the breastbone.
After surgery, she reported feeling better than she had in years. As is the case with many patients, she had no idea how little energy she had and how fatigued she actually was because she had become used to the way that she felt. She said she wished she had the procedure done a long time ago.
If you have been diagnosed with parathyroid disease and are in need of surgical management, look no further! Please contact us for an appointment so that we can help get you on the road to recovery.