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What are the parathyroid glands?

The parathyroid glands are very small glands (about the size of a grain of rice) situated in the neck just behind the thyroid gland.  There are usually four parathyroid glands – two on each lobe of the thyroid gland – which produce a hormone called parathyroid hormone.1

What do they do?

The parathyroid glands control calcium levels in the bloodstream to make sure you don’t have too little or too much calcium.

If calcium levels drop, the parathyroid glands release parathyroid hormone into the blood which then causes the bones to release calcium.  Parathyroid hormone also causes the kidneys to stop releasing calcium into the urine and stimulates the kidneys to increase vitamin D metabolism. The vitamin D then increases calcium absorption from the gut.

If calcium or vitamin D levels are low, the parathyroid glands produce more parathyroid hormone to bring levels up to normal.1

Causes of hypoparathyroidism

Hypoparathyroidism can be caused when the parathyroid glands do not produce enough parathyroid hormone.   This causes low blood calcium levels (hypocalcaemia).1

This can happen after neck surgery such as a thyroidectomy.

What are the symptoms of hypoparathyroidism?

The main symptoms1 of hypoparathyroidism are:

    • tingling

    • pins and needle sensations

    • muscle cramps/spasms

How is it diagnosed?

Hypoparathyroidism is diagnosed by looking at calcium and parathyroid hormone levels in the blood and urine.

How is hypoparathyroidism treated?

Treatment includes vitamin D or calcium supplementation.1


The prognosis of treating conditions of the parathyroid gland depends on the cause of the condition. If hypoparathyroidism is adequately treated with calcium and vitamin D, the prognosis is good. However, this relies on you taking medication daily for life. You may also need to have regular blood tests so that the dose of your medication can be adjusted as needed.

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Further information:

Visit Parathyroid UK’s website for further information


  1. You and Your Hormones
    Parathyroid Glands

Date updated: 10.05.21 (V1.5)
Review date: 17.12.22

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