Like the thyroid, the parathyroid is a group of neck glands (four total) that produces hormones essential to regulating the body’s functions – in this case, the amount of calcium in the blood. When the glands produce an overabundance of parathyroid hormone, the result is too much calcium, a condition known as hyperparathyroidism. This is often caused by an adenoma, a type of benign tumor. Minor cases may be dealt with medically, but parathyroid surgery is often recommended.
Types of Parathyroid Surgeries
Whether to proceed with parathyroid surgery depends on a number of factors including the patient’s age, how much calcium is in the blood and the extent of symptoms.
There are several different procedures for surgical removal of the parathyroid glands. The approach utilized depends on which glands are affected.
The patient receives a general anesthetic, and the surgeon makes an incision in the neck to examine the glands and determine which ones require removal.
In a minimally invasive parathyroidectomy, the diseased glands are removed through a small slit in the neck. A video-assisted parathyroidectomy utilizes two small cuts – one for surgical instruments, the other for a tiny camera that helps the surgeon view the area. An endoscopic parathyroidectomy is similar, but involves two or three incisions in the front of the neck and another above the breastbone to minimize scarring and speed up recovery time.
A follow-up visit is necessary to ensure calcium levels are under control. In some cases, additional surgeries may be needed.
Parathyroid Surgery Risks
All surgeries involve some degree of risk, such as bleeding, infection and reactions to anesthesia. Parathyroid surgery could cause injury to the thyroid gland and vocal cords or cause breathing problems. In addition, patients are at risk for hypocalcemia, a condition in which calcium levels drop too low. Fortunately, this is easily treatable.