While their names are similar, the thyroid and parathyroid glands are completely different. Most people have a total of four parathyroid glands. There are usually 2 parathyroid glands on each side of the thyroid gland, though some people can have more than 4. The parathyroid glands make parathyroid hormone (PTH), which helps your body keep the right balance of calcium and phosphorus in your bloodstream. 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. If you do not have enough PTH, you have hypoparathyroidism, and your blood calcium can be too low.
Symptoms of hyperparathyroidism mimic the effect of aging. People can feel tired and depressed. Their bones and muscles can ache. Bones can actually become brittle from losing calcium leading to osteoporosis. Other symptoms can include development of kidney stones and salivary stones. Most of these symptoms and changes are reversible and can go away once the over-producing parathyroid gland or glands are removed.
Parathyroid cancer is exceedingly rare. It is usually associated with a dangerously high calcium level and a very high PTH.
If you have been diagnosed with a disorder of your parathyroid glands, it is important to seek help from a surgeon who understands how to appropriately identify which gland or glands are causing the problem and who has experience with the various surgical options and techniques to fix the problem safely.