What are the Thyroid and Parathyroids?

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that lies in front of the windpipe (trachea), just below the voice box (larynx). The thyroid gland uses iodine from food to make two thyroid hormones that regulate the way the body uses energy.

The parathyroid glands are four tiny glands located within the thyroid gland. The parathyroid glands produce a substance (parathyroid hormone) that helps control the amount of calcium in the blood.

If your parathyroid glands make too much or too little hormone, it disrupts this balance. If they secrete extra PTH, you have hyperparathyroidism, and your blood calcium rises. In many cases, a benign tumor on a parathyroid gland makes it overactive. Or, the extra hormones can come from enlarged parathyroid glands. Very rarely, the cause is cancer.

If you do not have enough PTH, you have hypoparathyroidism. Your blood will have too little calcium and too much phosphorous. Causes include injury to the glands, endocrine disorders, or genetic conditions. Treatment is aimed at restoring the balance of calcium and phosphorous.

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