Thyroid and Parathyroid disease Overview

The thyroid gland and the parathyroid gland are part of the body’s endocrine system. The endocrine system is a group of glands that produce hormones that regulate metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, sexual function, sleep, mood and more.

Thyroid Diseases

The thyroid is a gland located at the base of the neck. It is shaped like a butterfly and sits just below the Adam’s apple. The thyroid gland makes thyroid hormones that control many bodily activities that are critical to life including regulating the pace of your heart beat, and metabolism. The most common thyroid disorders cause abnormal production of thyroid hormones.

  • The thyroid controls the regularity of the menstrual cycle, and can cause heavy or light periods, amenorrhea- no periods, and menopause before the age of 40 or early menopause, limiting reproductive options and causing hot flashes, mood changes, vaginal dryness, and loss of libido. Early menopause also increases the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis.
  • Thyroid hormones also affect ovulation and thyroid disease can affect the ability to conceive. Additionally, thyroid disease during pregnancy can cause problems for mother and baby.
  • Thyroid hormones also control the pituitary gland.
  • Low levels of thyroid hormones cause depression.

Women are more likely than men to develop thyroid disease. One in eight women will develop thyroid disease during her life. Women at risk for thyroid disease include those who have goiter, anemia and type 1 diabetes.

Types of Thyroid Disease

  • Hypothyroidism- when there is too little thyroid hormone. It is most often caused by Hashimoto’s disease or thyroiditis, or an underactive thyroid.
  • Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disease where the immune system creates antibodies that damage thyroid cells and cause all body functions to slow down, including the heart rate, brain function and metabolism.
  • Hyperthyroidism- an overactive thyroid gland causes too much thyroid hormone to be produced which speeds up the body’s functions. The most common cause is Graves’ Disease. Like Hashimoto’s disease, Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder. Hyperthyroidism raises the risk of osteoporosis. It is treated with medication, radioiodine and surgery.
  • Thyroiditis is inflammation of the thyroid gland caused by antibodies that attack the gland, either due to an autoimmune disease like type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, genetics, viral and bacterial infection and some mediations. Hashimoto’s disease is a common type of thyroiditis.
  • Goiter is an enlarged thyroid gland which appears as a swelling in the neck. Goiter can go away on its own. But more likely it is a symptom of another thyroid disease. Common causes include:

Hashimoto’s disease, Graves’ disease, thyroid nodules, thyroiditis and cancer. When treatment is needed it commonly makes the gland shrink back to normal. Surgery may be needed to remove the gland.

  • Thyroid nodules are swelling in a part of the gland. Nodules can cause hyperthyroidism. If the gland swells significantly it can interfere with swallowing and breathing.
  • Thyroid cancer is cancer of the gland’s tissue. It is commonly the cause of thyroid nodules and swelling of the gland. Tests will be required to determine whether the lump or nodule is cancerous.


Diagnosis can depend on the symptoms, and the use of blood tests, thyroid scans, and radioactive iodine uptake tests; ultrasound and needle biopsies.

Parathyroid Diseases

The parathyroid glands (there are 4) are located in the neck behind the thyroid gland. Their sole function is to regulate calcium in our bones and blood in a very tight range. Calcium is the most important element in the body and controls the nervous system, muscular system and the skeletal system. Their function is not related to the thyroid gland.

Hyperparathyroidism is the main type of Parathyroid Disease

Hyperparathyroidism- is the main disease of the parathyroid gland. This disease is caused by a benign (non-cancerous) parathyroid tumor that makes too much parathyroid hormone which causes high calcium levels in the blood. Enlargement of the parathyroid gland is called a parathyroid adenoma, which is responsible for hyperparathyroidism in 95% of cases. Most patients have a single adenoma. 3-4% of patients can develop disease in all four of the parathyroid glands in which case this is called parathyroid hyperplasia.

High blood calcium levels, due to hyperparathyroidism, are never normal and affect 1% of women over the age of 50, and one in 200 men. High blood calcium increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Hyperparathyroidism caries the risk of multiple medical problems that can lead to early death.


  • This disease will cause osteopenia, significant osteoporosis and bone fractures.
  • Most people have symptoms like low energy, fatigue, headaches, sleeplessness, irritability, high blood pressure and difficulty concentrating, poor memory, GERD, muscle aches and pain, bone pain, low sex drive, and heart rhythm problems.
  • In more severe cases it can cause gastric ulcers, pancreatitis and kidney stones. Importantly, severe depression results in about 20% of patients.

Most patients have this disease for a few years before it is diagnosed, because most symptoms are not obvious, but as time passes, damage in being done. Without treatment, over the course of 15 years, patients will develop decreased kidney function, atrial fibrillation, and multiple organ failure. In the worst cases, this disease can kill.


No drug will improve hyperparathyroidism or parathyroid tumors. Surgery offers a cure with a routine operation and succeeds in 95% of cases, and a complication rate of about 1%. Once the parathyroid gland is removed, hyperparathyroidism is cured. And the risks of breast cancer, kidney stones, kidney failure, coronary disease, heart arrhythmias, bone fractures and muscle pain decrease.

The general surgeons at BASS Medical Group are board-certified and experienced in thyroid and parathyroid disease diagnosis and treatment, and they are Fellows of the American College of Surgeons. Our multi-specialty group is dedicated to your health and well being. Choosing the right surgeon to perform your surgery is one of the most important decisions a patient can make. Our offices are conveniently located in San Francisco, and the East Bay, California, to serve our patients. Find the location convenient to you. Then call BASS Medical Group to schedule a consultation to discuss your concerns, get answers to your questions and receive professional, quality care.