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What are the after effects of a parathyroid operation?

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The Answer

Your thyroid gland produces thyroxine, which tells your body how fast to ‘tick over’. It’s a bow-tie shaped gland which sits on the bottom of the front of your neck. Your parathyroid glands are four tiny hormone-producing glands which sit embedded in your thyroid gland. These glands produce a hormone called parathyroid hormone or PTH, which helps to control the levels of calcium and phosphate in your blood.

Usually, your parathyroid glands release more PTH when they detect low levels of calcium in your bloodstream. High levels of PTH cause calcium to be released from your bones, increase the amount of calcium absorbed from your gut and reduce the amount of calcium removed from your body through your kidneys.

If your body produces too much PTH, the levels of calcium in your blood rise too much. This in turn can cause tiredness, abdominal pain, weak muscles and constipation among other symptoms. In severe cases, it can lead to thinning of the bones and other complications, so surgery may be advised.

Unless the overactive parathyroid is caused by cancer, you will usually have most but not all of your parathyroid glands removed. One of the nerves in your neck, called the recurrent laryngeal nerve, runs close to the parathyroid glands and this can be damaged during surgery. Damage can lead in turn to hoarseness of the voice and coughing. Infection and bleeding are possible after any kind of surgery. In addition, your blood levels of calcium can drop after parathyroid surgery. This often settles within a few weeks as your body adapts and your remaining parathyroid gland starts to take control of your calcium levels. If it doesn’t, you may need to take calcium and vitamin D supplements long term.

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