Hyperparathyroidism is a condition that can cause osteoporosis. If you’ve been identified as having hyperparathyroidism, learn what causes it, how it affects you and your bones, and what you can do about it.
Has your doctor just let you know that the blood test you had during your annual physical shows you have hyperparathyroidism?
It’s not surprising if you learn you have this thyroid disease via an annual checkup - its symptoms can range from severe (in advanced cases) to nonexistent, in its milder forms. Possible signs include weakness, aches and pains, and depression - but these symptoms can also accompany so many other common conditions (such as aging) that they’re usually not recognized as possibly connected to hyperparathyroidism.
You’ve probably heard of the thyroid gland in your neck - the parathyroids are four smaller glands located on the thyroid. Without getting too technical, the parathyroids manufacture and release PTH, a substance that helps regulate calcium and phosphorus levels in your blood. Specifically, PTH tells your bones when to release calcium; helps your intestines absorb calcium; and regulates calcium excretion via the urinary system.
Ah, there’s that magic word, calcium: the substance we need for healthy bones. Your body needs to maintain a certain level of calcium in the blood, for a variety of reasons. If that level drops, your bones release calcium to bring it back up - to their own detriment. Bones with less calcium can become weak and brittle; can fracture, and can become osteoporotic.
Hyperparathyroidism happens when your parathyroid glands go out of whack and secrete too much PTH, which causes your bones to release too much calcium, and your digestive system to absorb too much calcium, and your blood calcium level to rise - none of which is good. Bones shedding their calcium can lead to osteoporosis. And too much calcium in the blood can cause kidney stones, which if you’ve never had one, be thankful - they’re not an experience anyone would want to repeat.
If you’re diagnosed with hyperparathyroidism, a usual first step will be a bone density test: a DEXA scan. You may also have scans and/or blood tests to check for kidney stones, or the likelihood you might develop them.
Once the doctor has established the severity of your condition, s/he can prescribe treatment - which can range from watchful waiting to a simple operation, which is usually about 95% effective.
How do you know if you need an operation? The doctor will assess the severity of the disease, and make a recommendation. If you have no symptoms; your blood calcium level is just slightly above normal, and you show no evidence of bone loss or kidney stones, your doctor will probably recommend regular monitoring, via blood tests.
For more severe cases, surgical removal of the parathyroid glands usually proves effective.
So, let’s assume you’ve been diagnosed with hyperparathyroidism - what can you do to control it?
First, there’s no diet that’ll help; what you eat doesn’t affect the function of your parathyroid glands.
That said, drinking plenty of water will help alleviate the overproduction of PTH. You know how you’re always hearing that you should drink 8 glasses of water a day? I know it can be tough, but try to do it. And make that water - not diet soda, coffee, or straight fruit juice, all of which can add their own negative consequences.
Water is pretty bland, no? Try adding some juice, or a squeeze of lemon or lime with a bit of sweetener. The mildly flavored (unsweetened) waters out there now are tasty; and caffeine-free tea (hot or iced) can stand in for some of your daily water.
Considering you’re trying to increase your body’s H20 level, you should also be aware of the effects of diuretics: medicines that increase urination. Many hypertension drugs (drugs that treat high blood pressure) can have a diuretic effect, so make sure the doctor treating you for hyperparathyroidism - probably an endocrinologist - knows about any medicine you take for high blood pressure.
Finally, exercise can help control excess PTH and its effects - so, as Nike says, just do it
One final note: If you’ve been diagnosed with hyperparathyroidism, immobility (e.g., being confined to bed); or severe vomiting and/or diarrhea can exacerbate it. Again, make sure any doctor treating you for these conditions knows about your hyperparathyroidism.
PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via HealthCentral.com.