There are four parathyroid glands located in the neck, just behind the thyroid. These glands and the thyroid are both essential parts of the endocrine system. While they share very similar names, they have completely separate functions in the body. The parathyroid glands are very small—typically about the size of an apple seed—and they are responsible for regulating the levels of calcium in the body.
Because calcium plays so many roles in the human body, from the building blocks of the skeletal system to the contraction of muscles, to the communication of nerves, even a small imbalance of this mineral can cause widespread health issues. Most commonly, calcium imbalances related to parathyroid disorders are caused by an over-activity of these glands due to the growth of non-cancerous tumors, which is known as hyperparathyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism is a condition that causes an overactive thyroid gland. This means that the gland produces too much thyroxine. High levels of this hormone speed up the metabolism and can cause mood swings, irritability, nervousness, weakness, and heat sensitivity. Other symptoms include problems sleeping, thin skin, irregular heartbeat, sudden weight loss, and brittle hair. More often than not, these symptoms are only noticeable in older adults. In younger people, the symptoms are much more subtle.
Parathyroid hyperplasia is a parathyroid disease that can cause hyperparathyroidism. This condition leads to elevated parathyroid hormone levels, as well as blood calcium levels. Elevated calcium levels can cause several symptoms, including kidney stones, lethargy, constipation, and nausea.
Parathyroid cancer is a rare form of the disease in which malignant cells form in the tissues of the parathyroid glands. Symptoms of parathyroid cancer include a lump in the neck, as well as feeling tired, weakness, nausea, loss of appetite, and extreme thirst. To diagnose this form of cancer, tests are conducted to examine the neck, as well as blood tests.
A parathyroid adenoma is a benign tumor that is located on one of the parathyroid glands. This tumor causes the gland to release more parathyroid hormone, which can lead to hyperparathyroidism. Treating parathyroid adenoma requires parathyroid surgery, also known as a parathyroidectomy, to remove the tumor.
Because hyperparathyroidism is often a result of a benign tumor of the parathyroid glands, parathyroid surgery is often necessary to address the condition. Unlike an overactive thyroid that can be treated with medication and other conservative treatments, the parathyroid glands will not return to normal function until tumors have been removed.
Fortunately, modern surgical techniques have facilitated procedures that leave minimal scarring, with reduced damage to healthy tissues for more successful surgical outcomes. Our parathyroid surgeon Dr. Cohen and his team specialize in minimally invasive parathyroid surgery. Unlike traditional parathyroid surgery, you don’t need to worry about an unsightly scar across your neck.
For the last few years, MIP has become the preferred method of removing tumors on the parathyroid glands. The surgery has a high success rate and a much lower complication rate when compared to traditional parathyroid surgery.
The surgery involves removing tumors from the impacted parathyroid gland. Patients who have parathyroid disease typically only have tumors on one of the glands. In the past, surgery involved opening the neck to expose all four of the glands, but, with MIP, a very small incision (less than an inch!) is used to remove the tumor. With minimally invasive surgery, there’s less risk of complication, a reduced recovery period, and a nearly invisible scar.
No Hospital Stay – For many, the idea of being away from home can be uncomfortable. While this surgery requires the use of general anesthesia, patients are usually able to go home after the procedure has been completed. This means no hospital stay, allowing you to recover in a familiar environment.
Quick Recovery Time – Because minimally invasive parathyroid surgery doesn’t require a large scar, the recovery time from the procedure is much quicker. This means lower levels of postoperative pain. In just a few weeks after surgery, you’ll be back to your old routine.
Minimal Scarring – If you’ve looked at traditional parathyroid surgery, chances are you’ve seen the large scar that trails across the neck. For some patients, the scar can be a huge cosmetic issue that keeps them from undergoing surgery, but, with minimally invasive parathyroid surgery, the scar is small and nearly invisible! At just about an inch long, the scar is hardly noticeable and won’t leave you feeling insecure.
As with any surgical procedure, there are risks and complications to be aware of. A hematoma is a rare post-surgery risk which causes bleeding in the neck. Most hematomas occur within the first six hours of surgery but can form weeks later. To prevent a hematoma from forming, your doctor may recommend blood thinners before and after surgery.
After surgery, hoarseness can occur as a result of a laryngeal nerve injury. These nerves can become irritated during removal of the parathyroid gland. Hoarseness is temporary and usually goes away within a few weeks. In serious cases, hoarseness can last up to six weeks.
Low calcium levels can also persist after surgery because of the removal of too much parathyroid tissue or because the other parathyroid glands have become inactive. To treat low calcium, your doctor may recommend calcium supplements, as well as vitamin D. Supplementation, is usually temporary and can end as soon as the parathyroid glands return to their normal function.
The thought of being put to sleep and having an area on your neck operated on can induce all sorts of worries and fears. You can rest assured that you are in safe hands during the duration of the procedure. Our team will work to ensure we successfully complete the operation and that you are comfortable afterward.
With parathyroid surgery, you will be unconscious after being administered general anesthesia. Because the glands are so small, this surgery can take up to four hours. Your surgeon will need to spend time locating the glands, and then carefully removing them to avoid disrupting nerves and blood vessels in the area. The complication rates for this type of surgery are extremely low.
Endocrine diseases are best treated by specialists. At Surgery Group LA, we will work with you to determine the best treatment option for you. Whether it is surgery or medication, our goal is to treat your condition and get you back on the road to health and happiness.
If you have questions about surgery or want to learn what other treatment options are available, you can count on us! To learn more about treatment options in Los Angeles, schedule an appointment.
More importantly, our team of world-renowned surgeons have saved countless lives, and have enabled countless more to live healthy, happy lives.