Hyperparathyroidism is where the parathyroid glands produce too much parathyroid hormone. The parathyroid glands are in the neck near the thyroid gland, at the front. This causes blood calcium levels to rise (hypercalcaemia). Left untreated, high levels of calcium in the blood can lead to a range of problems.

Symptoms of hyperparathyroidism

Hyperparathyroidism usually causes few or no symptoms. The severity of symptoms doesn't always relate to the level of calcium in your blood.

For example, some people with a slightly raised calcium level may have symptoms. While others with high calcium levels may have few or no symptoms at all.

If you do have symptoms, they can be wide-ranging and include:

  • depression
  • tiredness
  • feeling thirsty and peeing a lot
  • feeling sick and losing your appetite
  • muscle weakness
  • constipation
  • tummy pain
  • loss of concentration
  • mild confusion

Left untreated, high blood calcium levels may cause:

It can also cause a number of other possible complications, including:

In very severe cases of hyperparathyroidism, high calcium levels can lead to rapid kidney failure, loss of consciousness, coma, or serious life-threatening heart rhythm abnormalities.

But hyperparathyroidism is usually diagnosed at an early stage and these complications are extremely rare. It is common for it to be picked up unintentionally on routine blood testing.

Diagnosing hyperparathyroidism

You should see your GP if you have the symptoms above and are concerned. It's important that hyperparathyroidism is diagnosed as soon as possible. Without treatment, it can gradually get worse and may lead to complications.

But in most cases, the condition is mild to moderate and remains stable for years.

Hyperparathyroidism is diagnosed after a blood test shows:

  • high levels of parathyroid hormone
  • high levels of blood calcium, often with low levels of phosphorus

DEXA scan (a bone density X-ray) can help detect bone loss, fractures or bone softening, and X-raysCT scans or ultrasound scans may show calcium deposits or kidney stones.

Causes of hyperparathyroidism

There are two main types of hyperparathyroidism:

  • primary – when there's a problem within the parathyroid gland itself, usually a benign (non-cancerous) tumour of the gland
  • secondary – when there's nothing wrong with the gland, but a condition like kidney failure or vitamin D deficiency lowers calcium levels, causing the body to react by producing extra parathyroid hormone

Tertiary hyperparathyroidism is a term that describes long-standing secondary hyperparathyroidism that starts to behave like primary hyperparathyroidism.

It's associated with very advanced kidney failure (usually requiring dialysis).

People with tertiary hyperparathyroidism are almost always under the care of kidney specialists.

Causes of primary hyperparathyroidism

In 4 out of 5 cases, primary hyperparathyroidism is caused by a non-cancerous tumour called an adenoma on one of the parathyroid glands.

Less commonly, it can occur if two or more parathyroid glands become enlarged (hyperplasia).

Very rarely, primary hyperparathyroidism can be caused by cancer of a parathyroid gland.

Women are twice as likely to develop primary hyperparathyroidism than men. Most women who develop it are 50 to 60 years of age.

Treating primary hyperparathyroidism

Surgery to remove the parathyroid gland is the only way of treating primary hyperparathyroidism. This cures about 97 per cent of cases.

If your calcium levels are very high, you may need to be admitted to hospital urgently.

Make sure you have a healthy, balanced diet.

You don't need to avoid calcium altogether. A lack of dietary calcium is more likely to lead to a loss of calcium from your skeleton, resulting in brittle bones (osteoporosis).

But you should avoid a high-calcium diet and drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.

Medications such as thiazide diuretics (water tablets commonly used to treat high blood pressure) should be avoided because they can cause dehydration and raise calcium levels.

Treating secondary hyperparathyroidism

Treatment for secondary hyperparathyroidism depends on the underlying cause.

Low vitamin D is the most common cause and can be corrected with oral vitamin D (colecalciferol).

Kidney disease is another common cause – read more about treating chronic kidney disease.

Treating tertiary hyperparathyroidism

Medication may be used to treat tertiary hyperparathyroidism that occurs in very advanced kidney failure.

The health professional looking after your care will discuss treatment options with you.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

Health conditions A to Z

Search by health condition or symptoms

Or find conditions beginning with …

Share this page

What do you want to do?
What is your question about?
Do you want a reply?
Your email address
To reply to you, we need your email address
Your feedback

We will not reply to your feedback.  Don't include any personal or financial information, for example National Insurance, credit card numbers, or phone numbers.

This feedback form is for issues with the nidirect website only.

You can use it to report a problem or suggest an improvement to a webpage.

If you have a question about a government service or policy, you should contact the relevant government organisation directly as we don’t have access to information about you held by government departments.

You must be aged 13 years or older - if you’re younger, ask someone with parental responsibility to send the feedback for you.

The nidirect privacy notice applies to any information you send on this feedback form.

Don't include any personal or financial information, for example National Insurance, credit card numbers, or phone numbers.

Plain text only, 750 characters maximum.
Plain text only, 750 characters maximum.

What to do next

Comments or queries about angling can be emailed to anglingcorrespondence@daera-ni.gov.uk 

What to do next

If you have a comment or query about benefits, you will need to contact the government department or agency which handles that benefit.  Contacts for common benefits are listed below.

Carer's Allowance

Call 0800 587 0912

Discretionary support / Short-term benefit advance

Call 0800 587 2750 

Disability Living Allowance

Call 0800 587 0912 
Email dcs.incomingpostteamdhc2@nissa.gsi.gov.uk

Employment and Support Allowance

Call 0800 587 1377

Jobseeker’s Allowance

Contact your local Jobs & Benefits office

Personal Independence Payment

Call 0800 587 0932

If your query is about another benefit, select ‘Other’ from the drop-down menu above.

What to do next

Comments or queries about the Blue Badge scheme can be emailed to bluebadges@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk or you can also call 0300 200 7818.

What to do next

For queries or advice about careers, contact the Careers Service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about Child Maintenance, contact the Child Maintenance Service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about claiming compensation due to a road problem, contact DFI Roads claim unit.

What to do next

For queries or advice about criminal record checks, email ani@accessni.gov.uk

What to do next

Application and payment queries can be emailed to ema_ni@slc.co.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about employment rights, contact the Labour Relations Agency.

What to do next

For queries or advice about birth, death, marriage and civil partnership certificates and research, contact the General Register Office Northern Ireland (GRONI) by email gro_nisra@finance-ni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries about:

If your query is about another topic, select ‘Other’ from the drop-down menu above.

What to do next

For queries or advice about passports, contact HM Passport Office.

What to do next

For queries or advice about Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs), including parking tickets and bus lane PCNs, email dcu@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about pensions, contact the Northern Ireland Pension Centre.

What to do next

If you wish to report a problem with a road or street you can do so online in this section.

If you wish to check on a problem or fault you have already reported, contact DfI Roads.

What to do next

For queries or advice about historical, social or cultural records relating to Northern Ireland, use the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) enquiry service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about rates, email LPSCustomerTeam@lpsni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about  60+ and Senior Citizen SmartPasses (which can be used to get concessionary travel on public transport), contact Smartpass - Translink.