Characteristics

The four small glands of the parathyroid are connected with and embedded in the thyroid. They secrete the hormone parathormone, which regulates the calcium-phosphorus metabolism. The bones of the body as well as the cardiac muscles depend upon this gland to release the proper amount of calcium to maintain a Jevel of strength in the skeletal system and consistency of heartbeat. Parathormone is also necessary for neuromuscular activity, blood clotting, cell membrane permeability and proper functioning of several enzymes.

Diseases and Tests

Hyperparathyroidism: Whenever the gland increases the secretion of calcium, several problems result. Muscular weakness occurs because of excessive calcium levels in the bloodstream. Kidney disease may eventuate as deposits of calcium or calcium stones occur within the organs. And calcium is stolen from the bones to flow into the blood, causing demineralization and resorption of the bones to occur: such excess calcium in the blood is called hypercalcemia.

To determine hypercalcemia a serum calcium blood test may be run. If the test proves that hypercalcemia exists, then a phosphate clearance test and phosphate resorption test may be given to see if the parathyroid gland is causing the rise in blood calcium levels.

Hypoparathyroidism: The first symptoms of hypoparathyroidism are bodily stiffness, cramps and spasms of the muscles at different times for no apparent reasons (not Charlie horses, caused by sudden physical exercise), twitchings of the muscles, increased excitability, tension, worry, fear, sleeplessness, confusion and depression. An infant of two years old or so who is labeled hyperactive because he or she is cranky, irritable and emotionally excitable may actually be suffering from a lowered calcium level.

The severe form of hypoparathyroidism is known as tetany, a nervous affection in which the muscles of the legs and arms jerk involuntarily. It occurs most frequently among younger children or women who are pregnant or breast-feeding. With tetany there is a numbness and tingling of the extremities, especially the hands. It can be fatal if allowed to go untreated.

The first step in determining hypoparathyroidism is to get a blood serum calcium test. A test to find out if the parathyroid hormone is the root of the problem has still not been perfected.

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