What Is Hypoparathyroidism?
This condition happens when glands in your neck -- called the parathyroid glands -- don't make enough parathyroid hormone (PTH). PTH controls the amount of two important minerals, calcium and phosphorus, in your blood. You may have hypoparathyroidism because you’re missing these glands entirely, or because you have another medical condition that affects how much PTH is in your body.
Your body uses calcium to keep your nerves, muscles, and heart working. Without enough PTH, the calcium levels in your blood drop. You can then have many different health problems, like muscle spasms, tingling, heart problems, and seizures. The good news is, you can control the condition and keep yourself or your child healthy.
Treatment mostly means making sure the body has enough calcium, which you can do by eating a balanced diet and taking vitamins. If you stick with your treatment plan and see your doctor regularly, you can lead a full, active life with hypoparathyroidism.
Your body has four parathyroid glands. They’re pea-sized, and they sit on another gland, the thyroid. Several things can trigger your parathyroid glands to stop making enough PTH. They include:
- Injury or removal during surgery
- Low levels of magnesium, a mineral you get through your diet
- A condition that makes your immune system attack your own cells, called an autoimmune disease
- Radiation therapy, especially to your neck or head
A baby can also be born with hypoparathyroidism. She may get it because she got certain broken genes from her parents or because of a problem in the womb. Sometimes, doctors can’t find a cause.
Some of the most common symptoms of hypoparathyroidism are:
- Muscle cramps or spasms in your legs, feet, lower back, or face
- Stomach pain
- Dry hair and skin
- Tingling in your fingers, toes, and lips
- Hair loss
- Brittle nails
- Anxiety, depression, and stress
Severe hypoparathyroidism can cause seizures, low blood pressure (or hypotension), and heart failure.
Children who have the disease may get a lot of cavities or have other problems with their teeth. The condition can also affect their physical growth and mental development. Careful treatment can help prevent these problems.
Getting a Diagnosis
If you or your child had neck surgery or the thyroid gland removed, your doctor may already suspect hypoparathyroidism. Whatever the case, she’ll need to find out more to make a diagnosis. She may ask you questions, like:
- What brought you to see me today?
- How long have you noticed these symptoms?
- Does anything make them better? What makes them worse?
- Have any members of your family had the same problems?
- Do you have any other medical conditions?
Your doctor will also test your blood and your pee. The blood test checks the amount of calcium, PTH, phosphorus, and magnesium in your body. The urine test shows how much calcium your body loses in a 24-hour period.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
- What caused my hypoparathyroidism?
- Do I need any more tests?
- How often will I need to see a doctor?
- What kind of treatments can help? Which would you recommend?
- How can I keep my calcium levels normal?
- What kind of lifestyle changes do I need to make?
- Will it ever go away?
- Will my children get hypoparathyroidism?
If your child has the disease, ask his doctor how you can make sure he gets the nutrients he needs to grow.
- Limit foods with phosphates (like hot dogs, soda, or other fizzy drinks). These can draw calcium from your body.
- Eat foods high in calcium, such as low-fat dairy products, dark green vegetables like collard greens and kale, and foods made with extra calcium, also called calcium-fortified foods.
A dietitian can help you plan meals to keep you or your child healthy. Your child’s doctor will check her regularly to see that her growth is on track.
If the calcium levels in your body drop very low, you may need to get calcium through a daily injection or an IV. Your doctor will also check your heart to make sure it’s working well. Once the calcium levels are normal again, you can go back to your regular treatment.
Scientists are also testing new ways to treat hypoparathyroidism. Ask your doctor if there are any clinical trials that might be a good fit for you or your child.
Taking Care of Yourself
You can take steps to make living with the condition easier.
- Take calcium supplements with food. They’re more easily absorbed that way.
- Drink plenty of water every day. That makes it easier for your body to digest vitamins and minerals.
- See your dentist regularly. Too little calcium can hurt your teeth.
- Try meditation, yoga, or listening to music if you're stressed. Anxiety can be a symptom of hypoparathyroidism, so find ways to relax and feel better.
- If you don’t drink enough water or if you exercise very hard, that can affect your calcium. Ask your doctor about carrying fast-acting calcium in case you feel numbness or tingling.
What to Expect
As long as you get enough calcium and vitamin D, you should be able to keep your hypoparathyroidism under control. If you don't take your daily supplement and watch your diet, the condition can be dangerous. You’ll probably visit the doctor regularly to have your blood and pee checked to keep track of your condition.
For more information, visit the web site of the Hypoparathyroidism Association.