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
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 can be abnormal due to cancer or for other reasons.
A minimally invasive approach is usually done if only one gland needs to be removed. If more than one gland needs to be removed or if the doctor needs to do additional surgery in the neck, a conventional approach may used instead, which involves making larger incisions.
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 four 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.
There are different types of minimally invasive surgeries that may be used, such as:
A small incision will be made in the neck. A small tube with a tiny camera will be passed through the incision. The images from the camera will be sent to a TV monitors so the doctor can see the glands. Other small tools will be passed through the tube to detach and remove the gland. Once the gland has been removed, the incision will be closed with stitches.
A radioactive substance will be injected into your body. The abnormal gland will absorb the substance but the healthy glands will not. A small incision will be made in the neck and a small probe will be inserted. The probe will detect signals that are given off by the radioactive substance in the abnormal gland. This will help the doctor find the abnormal gland. Other small tools will be passed through the tube to detach and remove the gland. Once the gland has been removed, the incision will be closed with stitches.
With either surgery, 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.
Between 30 minutes and 1-2 hours (depending on the type of surgery)
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 a day or you may be able to leave the same day. Ask your doctor if this is an option for you. Your doctor may also choose to keep you longer if you have any problems.
After your surgery, 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
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.
It is important for you to monitor your recovery after you leave the hospital. Alert your doctor to any problems right away. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
- 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.
Parathyroidectomy: minimally invasive (focused). University of California, Los Angeles Endocrine Surgery website. Available at:
http://endocrinesurgery.ucla.edu/surgery_mip.html. 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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