A parathyroidectomy is a surgery to remove parathyroid glands. There are four parathyroid glands located in the neck. The glands make a hormone that balance the level of
calcium in the blood.
Parathyroid Glands and Thyroid Glands (Back View)
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The surgery is done to remove one or more abnormal parathyroid glands. The glands may be abnormal due to cancer or for other reasons.
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
- Low calcium levels in the blood—more common if all 4 glands are removed
- Wound infection
- Reaction to the anesthesia
- Skin tethering—tissues and skin may become attached to the voice box or windpipe
- Blocked airway
- Damage to nerves, which can cause problems like paralyzed vocal cords
Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage factors that may increase your risk of complications such as:
Your doctor will:
- Do a physical exam and ask you about your medical history
- Order imaging test such as ultrasound or parathyroid scan
- Have blood tests done
- Arrange to have someone drive you home from the hospital after surgery.
- Avoid eating or drinking 6-8 hours before surgery.
- Talk to your doctor about your medications, herbs, and dietary supplements. You may be asked to stop taking some medications up to one week before the procedure.
is used most often. It will block any pain and you will stay asleep through the surgery.
In some cases, local anesthesia may be used instead.
The area will be numb but you will be awake.
An incision will be made in the neck. Muscle and other tissue will be moved to locate all the glands. The abnormal gland or glands will then be cut out and removed. A drain may then be placed in the area. This will allow fluids to drain out of the area while you heal. If all four glands were removed, a part of one gland may be placed in a different area of the neck or in the forearm. The incision will be closed with stitches.
20 minutes to several hours, depending on how many glands need to be removed
Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
You may need to stay in the hospital for 1-2 days. Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if you have any problems.
After your surgery, the the hospital staff will:
- Observe you in the recovery room.
- Check on your ability to swallow and speak.
- Test your calcium levels.
- Show you how to change your dressings and care for your wound.
- Remove the drain if one was placed during surgery.
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection, such as:
- Washing their hands
- Wearing gloves or masks
- Keeping your incisions covered
There are also steps you can take to reduce your chance of infection, such as:
- Washing your hands often and reminding your healthcare providers to do the same
- Reminding your healthcare providers to wear gloves or masks
- Not allowing others to touch your incision
Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions. To help your recovery at home:
- You may be given calcium supplements.
- You will be given instruction about caring for your wound. Check your wound daily for signs of infection.
- You may want to eat semi-solid foods like ice cream or oatmeal for the first few days. These types of foods will be easier to swallow.
Call your doctor if any of the following occur:
- Tingling or numbness in the fingertips, toes, hands, or around the mouth
- Twitching or cramping of muscles
- Redness, warmth, drainage, or swelling around the area where surgery was done
- Difficulty swallowing, talking, or breathing
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
Farndon JR. Surgical treatment: Evidence-based and problem-oriented. Postoperative complications of parathyroidectomy. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK6967. Accessed June 18, 2013.
Parathyroid surgery. The American Association of Endocrine Surgeons website. Available at:
http://endocrinediseases.org/parathyroid/surgery_overview.shtml. Accessed June 18, 2013.
Parathyroidectomy. Cedars-Sinai website. Available at:
http://cedars-sinai.edu/Patients/Programs-and-Services/Head-and-Neck-Cancer-Center/Treatment/Parathyroidectomy.aspx. Accessed June 18, 2013.
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Last reviewed May 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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