Underproduction of parathyroid hormone, which may lead to a low level of calcium in the blood

  • More common in females
  • Sometimes runs in families
  • Age and lifestyle are not significant factors

Hypoparathyroidism occurs when the parathyroid glands, which are embedded in the thyroid tissue, produce an inadequate amount of parathyroid hormone (PTH). PTH regulates the amount of calcium in the body. A lack of PTH results in an abnormally low level of calcium in the blood and may lead to the development of disorders of the muscles and nerves, which need calcium in order to function properly. In rare cases, hypoparathyroidism is present from birth. It is twice as common in women as men and sometimes runs in families.

Muscular spasm

A muscular spasm has caused this hand to turn inwards, the fingers to bend, and the thumb to turn across the palm. This spasm, due to low calcium levels, is a symptom of hypoparathyroidism.

What are the causes?

Damage to the parathyroid glands during surgery on the thyroid gland is the most common cause of hypoparathyroidism. In this case, the disorder tends to develop suddenly. In rare cases, hypoparathyroidism is associated with autoimmune disorders, in which the body attacks its own tissues.

What are the symptoms?

If hypoparathyroidism develops after thyroid surgery, symptoms appear within a few hours. In other cases, symptoms develop gradually and are usually less severe. In either case, symptoms are due to low calcium levels and include:

  • Tetany (muscular spasm) in the feet, the hands, and sometimes the throat.

  • Tingling and numbness in the hands, the feet, and around the mouth.

  • Seizures.

If the condition is left untreated, long-term complications, such as cataracts, may develop.

What might be done?

If your doctor suspects hypoparathyroidism from your symptoms, he or she will probably arrange for blood tests to measure the levels of PTH and calcium.

If the symptoms are severe, you may require emergency hospital treatment, including intravenous injections of calcium to relieve muscle spasms. Lifelong treatment with dietary supplements of calcium (see Minerals) and vitamin D (see Vitamins) may be necessary, as well as regular blood tests to monitor your blood calcium level.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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