What Is Hypoparathyroidism?
Your neck has four pea-sized glands called the parathyroid glands. Hypoparathyroidism happens when they don't make enough parathyroid hormone (PTH), are surgically removed, are damaged, or when your body is resistant to that hormone. The condition can also be hereditary. PTH controls the blood level of important vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D, calcium, and phosphorus.
You may also have hypoparathyroidism because you have another condition that affects how much PTH is in your body, such as a low magnesium level.
Hypoparathyroidism has a link to several other health conditions, including:
- Addison’s disease
- Pernicious anemia
Your body uses calcium to keep your nerves, muscles, and heart working. Low levels of calcium can result in symptoms ranging from mild to severe muscle spasms, tingling, heart problems, and seizures. The good news is you can treat the condition.
Treatment mostly means making sure your body has enough calcium and vitamin D, which you can do by eating a balanced diet, taking supplements, and keeping an eye on blood levels. If you stick with your treatment plan and see your doctor regularly, you can lead a full, active life with hypoparathyroidism.
Several things can trigger hypoparathyroidism. They include:
- Injury or removal of the glands during surgery
- Autoimmune diseases
- Radiation therapy to your neck or head
- Low levels of magnesium
- Genetic disorders
Some of the symptoms of low blood calcium are:
- Muscle cramps or spasms in your legs, feet, lower back, or face
- Tingling in your fingers, toes, or lips
- Anxiety and depression
- Heart failure
- An irregular heartbeat
- Low blood pressure
Low calcium in the long term can lead to:
- Dental problems
- Movement disorders like tremors
- Hair loss and brittle nails
- Bone disease
Getting a Diagnosis
Your doctor will test your blood for calcium, PTH, phosphorus, and magnesium.
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 do 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 their doctor how you can make sure they get the nutrients they need to grow.
- Limit foods with phosphates, like soda and other fizzy drinks. These can pull calcium from your bones.
- Eat foods high in calcium such as low-fat dairy products, dark green vegetables like collard greens and kale, and foods with added calcium like some cereals and orange juices.
A dietitian can help you plan meals to keep you or your child healthy. Your child's doctor will check them regularly to see that their growth is on track.
If normal calcium levels in your body are hard to maintain, you may need to get an injection of PTH. Once your calcium levels are normal again, you can go back to your regular treatment.
Taking Care of Yourself
Hypoparathyroidism can usually be managed with a few simple changes in lifestyle. Here are some tips.
Drink plenty of water. This helps flush out extra calcium. Aim for 6-8 glasses each day.
Exercise regularly. Physical activity strengthens your bones and helps ward off fractures. Ask your doctor about what kinds of exercise (and how much) are right for you.
Pay attention to what you eat. Hypoparathyroidism can cause you to have too little calcium and too much phosphorus in your blood. Because of this, you might need to track how much of these nutrients you eat each day.
Foods high in calcium include:
Dairy products, like milk or cheese
Nuts, especially almonds
Dark leafy greens
Some juices, breads, and cereals also have calcium added to them. If possible, try to get most of your calcium through food instead of supplements. Your body absorbs it better that way.
Avoid foods high in phosphorus. It might be called phosphates or phosphoric acid in the ingredient list. These include:
Whole grains, like rice, oats, and bread
Keep in mind that some foods are high in both calcium and phosphorus. Ask your doctor or nutritionist to help you figure out what's right for you.
Take supplements. Your doctor might recommend calcium or vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D helps your body get more calcium from food. It also helps get rid of phosphorus. You might also need a magnesium supplement if you have low magnesium levels. The doctor can tell you how much of each supplement to take. Some supplements, like calcium, work better if you take them with food.
Stay in touch with your doctor. Hypoparathyroidism can affect the whole body, especially your kidneys and bones. Your doctor can keep an eye on these organs with regular blood tests and bone density scans.
See your dentist regularly. Too little calcium can hurt your teeth.
What to Expect
As long as you get enough calcium and vitamin D and have your blood checked regularly, 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.
For more information, visit the web site of the Hypoparathyroidism Association.