Hypoparathyroidism is a rare but treatable condition that causes low levels of calcium in your blood. It can be caused by damage to your parathyroid glands and certain genetic and autoimmune diseases. It’s usually treated with calcium and vitamin D supplements.
Hypoparathyroidism is a rare, treatable condition that happens when you have low levels of parathyroid hormone in your blood, which causes you to have low levels of calcium (hypocalcemia) and high levels of phosphorous in your blood.
Hypoparathyroidism is usually a chronic (lifelong) condition, but it can be temporary.
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Most people have four pea-sized parathyroid glands located behind their thyroid gland — the butterfly-shaped gland in your neck. Like your thyroid, your parathyroid glands are part of your endocrine system. Sometimes your parathyroid glands are located along your esophagus or in your chest. These are known as ectopic (in an abnormal place) parathyroid glands.
Your parathyroid glands are in charge of controlling the amount of calcium in your blood by producing parathyroid hormone (PTH). Too little PTH results in low amounts of calcium in your blood (hypocalcemia), and too much PTH causes high amounts of calcium in your blood (hypercalcemia). PTH also helps control the levels of phosphorus and vitamin D in your blood and bones.
Calcium is one of the most important and common minerals in your body. Most of your calcium is stored in your bones, but you have and need it in your blood as well. The calcium in your blood has many important roles, including helping:
A low level of calcium in your blood (hypocalcemia), which is caused by hypoparathyroidism, can affect your body’s ability to perform these important functions. Your body also needs calcium in your bones to make them strong. Hypocalcemia happens when there are low levels of calcium in your blood, not in your bones.
Calcium and phosphorus are both electrolytes. Hypoparathyroidism can lead to electrolyte imbalance since it causes low levels of calcium and high levels of phosphorous in your blood.
Electrolytes are essential minerals in your body that have an electric charge. They’re key to many important functions in your body. Because of this, it’s important to treat hypoparathyroidism to return your blood calcium and phosphorus levels to normal.
Low levels of magnesium, another important electrolyte, can also cause hypoparathyroidism because your parathyroid glands need magnesium to function properly.
In the medical world, the prefix “hyper-” means “too much” or “high.” The prefix “hypo-” means “not enough” or “low.” Hypoparathyroidism happens when your parathyroid glands don’t release enough parathyroid hormone (PTH), and hyperparathyroidism happens when your parathyroid glands make too much PTH.
Since your parathyroid glands are in charge of controlling the amount of calcium in your blood, too much PTH causes too much calcium in your blood, and too little PTH causes not enough calcium.
Both adults and children can get hypoparathyroidism, though it’s a rare condition. Adults are more likely to get hypoparathyroidism from accidental damage to their parathyroid glands from neck or thyroid surgery. Children are more likely to have hypoparathyroidism due to a genetic condition called DiGeorge syndrome.
Hypoparathyroidism is a rare condition. It affects fewer than 200,000 people in the United States.
Causes of hypoparathyroidism include:
In most cases, hypoparathyroidism progresses very gradually, and symptoms can be mild. Many people have symptoms for years before they’re diagnosed.
Signs and symptoms of hypoparathyroidism include:
Hypoparathyroidism is generally diagnosed when a person has low levels of calcium and parathyroid hormone in their blood.
Since symptoms are often mild, healthcare providers sometimes “accidentally” find hypoparathyroidism when a routine blood screening shows the person has low levels of blood calcium.
A person is considered to have chronic hypoparathyroidism if they have low blood levels of parathyroid hormone and calcium at least twice within six months.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of hypoparathyroidism, your healthcare provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your symptoms and medical history.
They may have you undergo one or more of the following tests, which can help diagnose hypoparathyroidism:
Your healthcare provider may have you undergo other tests to check for more serious side effects of hypoparathyroidism, including:
The goal of treatment for hypoparathyroidism is to minimize symptoms and correct the amount of calcium and minerals in your body.
Treatment can include:
If a person with hypoparathyroidism has too much vitamin D and calcium as a part of their treatment, it can cause a high level of blood calcium (hypercalcemia), which can be harmful to your health. Because of this, you’ll have to have your blood monitored frequently to make sure your hypoparathyroidism treatment is working properly.
Long-term use of parathyroid hormone injections may cause osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. For this reason, healthcare providers don’t generally prescribe it to treat hypoparathyroidism unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Risk factors for hypoparathyroidism include:
The prognosis for hypoparathyroidism is generally good, especially if it’s diagnosed early.
However, if a person has cataracts, brain calcifications and/or dental changes from hypoparathyroidism, they can’t be reversed.
Most cases of hypoparathyroidism are chronic (life-long), though it can sometimes be temporary.
Long-term complications of hypoparathyroidism can include:
For children specifically, complications from hypoparathyroidism can include:
Complications of untreated hypoparathyroidism due to sudden and severe (acute) hypocalcemia include seizures and larynx spasms, which can make it difficult to breathe. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, get to the nearest hospital as soon as possible.
If you experience symptoms of hypoparathyroidism, contact your healthcare provider.
If you’ve already been diagnosed with hypoparathyroidism, you’ll need to see your provider regularly to monitor your blood calcium levels to make sure your treatment is working.
If you have symptoms of acute hypocalcemia, such as painful muscle cramps or seizures, get to the nearest hospital as soon as possible.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Hypoparathyroidism is a rare condition. The good news is that it’s treatable. Symptoms of hypoparathyroidism can be mild and undetectable, so it’s important to let your healthcare provider know if you have risk factors for hypoparathyroidism such as having a family history of parathyroid conditions or having had neck or thyroid surgery. Your provider can run some simple blood tests to make sure your parathyroid hormone and calcium levels are where they should be.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/06/2022.
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