Thursday, February 21, 2013

WHAT ARE THOSE PESKY LITTLE PARATHYROIDS, AND WHAT THE HECK DO THEY DO?y

i like to joke around a little and say that two of my parathyroids left me  and moved to Paraguay!  ( i guess that is easier than the truth- that two of my parathyroids were cancerous and had to be removed). it was then and only then- you know the saying, you only miss something when it is gone- that i really started to think about our parathyroids. what  are they, what do they do, and why are they soooooo important?

well, they live near our thyroid gland- hence the name parathyroids. a fun fact, if you are a science nerd like me, is that most people have four of these, but some people have three, or even up to six! it would be sort of hard on the little guy, but you actually can get by pretty well with just one parathyroid gland. you do need at least one, as i said. if you happen to think being hypothyroid is difficult, being hypoparathyroid  seems ( to me, anyway) to be worse. the symptoms of hypoparathyroidism are as follows: muscle cramps/spasms,numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, tingling of the lips and in worst case scenarios, seizures. uh, no, thank you. 

our parathyroids are small glands near our thyroid glands. they look a little like a lumph node,  and they produce  a hormone called( and brilliantly, i might add) parathyroid hormone, or PTH. our parathyroids  do NOT make  thyroid hormone, but the PTH they produce  regulates the calcium in our bodies. the PTH also increases the activation of vitamin d in our bodies. i could get more involved here, but i think you get the idea. as long as we can hang onto one parathyroid gland, life is good. if there is cancer present in all of the parathyroids, or you unfortunately get a surgeon who is not skilled in saving the little guys,  then hypoparathyroidism occurs. hypoparathyroidism can be treated of course, with mega doses of calcium and a drug called calcitriol, which helps with the absorption of calcium. needless to say, people who have hypoparathyroidism need to have their calcium levels checked regularly. there is also a more sensitive test for measuring calcium -it is called an ionized calcium level, which is usually reserved for those people dealing with hypoparathyroidism. 

well, now, kind of makes you appreciate those parathyroid glands. who knew, right? after my surgery, my surgeon was afraid that the blood supply had been cut off to my remaining two parathyroid glands. i was given large doses of IV calcium in the hospital, as well as calcitrol, and 12,000mg, yes, i said 12,000mg, of calcium per day. he prescribed this for one month, and then checked my calcium level. so far, my two remaining parathyroids are working pretty hard. my calcium level runs a little low, but is not in the hypo range. an interesting side note- when i asked my surgeon where he put my parathyroid glands since my butterfly had flown away, he said that he " just threw them back in there". i never got the answer to my question, but i would imagine that they are attached to some friendly " vessel". interestingly enough, sometimes the surgeon will put them in a patients forearm. i am not sure why this would be a good idea, but it would provide easier access i guess. regardless of where they are placed or " thrown back into" they need a good blood supply to pick up the PTH and get on with the business of regulating  calcium levels  in our bodies. 

so, now you know all about our parathyroid glands. next time, i will probably discuss TED( thyroid eye disease)- which is a new( to me, i just found out about it ) hypo/hyper thyroid symptom. i will also talk about eye watering from the I-131 treatment. how do you tell the difference? i am not sure, but we will " see" what happens. 


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