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Parathyroid and Adrenal Glands

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  • Category: Disease

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Parathyroid glands are small glands of the endocrine system which are located in the neck behind the thyroid. There are 4 parathyroid glands in the human body. Parathyroid glands control the calcium in our bodies – how much calcium is in our bones, and how much calcium is in our blood. Parathyroid glands secrete or make a hormone, called parathyroid hormone or PTH. The parathyroid glands measure the amount of calcium in the blood every minute of every day and if the calcium levels go down a little bit, the parathyroid glands recognize it and make parathyroid hormone (PTH) which goes to the bones and takes some calcium out and puts it into the blood. When the calcium in the blood is high enough, then the parathyroid glands shut down and stop making PTH.

The single major disease of parathyroid glands is over-activity of one or more of the parathyroids which make too much parathyroid hormone causing a potentially serious calcium imbalance. This is called hyperparathyroidism. Hyperparathyroidism occurs when one (or more) of the four parathyroid glands grows into a tumor and behaves inappropriately by constantly making excess parathyroid hormone. The enlargement of the parathyroid gland is called parathyroid adenoma. This out of control parathyroid gland is essentially never cancerous, however, it slowly causes damage to the body because it induces an abnormally high level of calcium in the blood which can slowly destroy a number of tissues. Symptoms of hyperparathyroidism are loss of energy, depression, osteoporosis, bones hurt, high blood pressure, recurrent headaches, and etc.

A person can easily live with one (or even ½) parathyroid gland. However, removing all parathyroid glands will cause very bad symptoms of too little calcium or hypoparathyroidism. Hypoparathyroidism is characterized by low levels of PTH, which decreases the amount of calcium in the blood. Nerve and muscle cells are unable to function properly. Causes of hypoparathyroidism include magnesium deficiency, injury to the glands, surgery on the nearby thyroid gland, genetic disorder or the congenital lack of parathyroid glands. Symptoms of hypoparathyroidism are brittle hair and nails, dry and roughened skin, muscle cramps and spasms, and convulsions.


Adrenal glands are small glands that are located on top of the kidneys. These glands produce hormones called corticosteroids that affect many of the body’s functions. Corticosteroids are involved in the body’s reaction to and management of stress, and also suppresses inflammation throughout the body. The hormones also play a role in how the body processes nutrients such as fats and proteins.

When adrenal glands produce too many hormones, they are classified as “overactive,” a condition that is also called Cushing’s syndrome. Over activity can be the result of tumors that grow on the adrenal or pituitary glands or from other medical conditions. Symptoms and treatment depend on which hormones are being overproduced:

* Androgenic steroids (androgen hormones). An overproduction of androgenic steroids, such as testosterone, can lead to exaggerated male characteristics in both men and women, such as hairiness of the face and body, baldness, acne, deeper voice, and more muscularity. * Corticosteroids. An overproduction of corticosteroids can lead to Cushing’s syndrome. Cushing syndrome is the result of the excessive production of corticosteroids by the adrenal glands. An overproduction of corticotrophin – the hormone that controls the adrenal gland – by which pituitary gland, which stimulates the adrenal glands to produce corticosteroids, may be one cause. The most common symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome, however, each individual may experience symptoms differently are upper body obesity, round face, increased fat around neck, thinning arms and legs, fragile and thin skin, bone and muscle weakness, and etc. * Aldosterone. An overproduction of the aldosterone hormone can lead to high blood pressure and to those symptoms associated with low levels of potassium, such as weakness, muscle aches, spasms, and sometimes paralysis.

The under activity of the adrenal glands is called hypoadrenalism. Many of the symptoms of hypoadrenalism are due to a deficiency of the steroid hormone cortisol, which is a potentially fatal deficiency if left uncorrected. Each adrenal gland consists of two parts: an outer ring – the cortex, and an inner core – the medulla. The two parts have separate hormone functions and control mechanisms. The production of cortisol in the cortex is controlled by the hormone adrenocorticotrophin(ACTH), which is produced by the pituitary gland at the base of the brain. The way in which the pituitary gland regulates the normal production of steroid hormones by the adrenal gland is through the secretion of ACTH. If the adrenal gland produces too little cortisol, then there will be lower level of cortisol in the blood. This is sensed by the pituitary, which therefore will increase the release of ACTH, which in turn stimulates the adrenal cortex to produce more cortisol.

What causes hypoadrenalism?

Primary hypoadrenalism of Addison’s disease

Primary hypoadrenalism, or Addison’s disease, results from failure of the adrenal glands themselves. This is usually an ‘autoimmune’ disease, where the immune system produces antibodies that attack tissues of the body rather than a virus or bacteria. In Addison’s disease, antibodies attack the adrenal cortex, causing damage and scarring. Antibodies in the adrenal cortex can be detected in the blood of some patients.

Secondary hypoadrenalism or ACTH deficiency

Secondary hypoadrenalism or ACTH deficiency, is cased by diseases of the pituitary gland, which lead to adrenal failure as a secondary effect.

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