Among the many body parts that, thankfully, must of us don’t have to think much about are the parathyroid glands. These rice grain-sized glands — there are four of them — typically sit behind the thyroid gland in the neck. Though their names are similar, the thyroid and parathyroid glands are completely different. The parathyroid glands make parathyroid hormone, which helps your body regulate calcium and phosphorous levels.
Parathyroid glands may develop a benign tumor that makes it overactive and throws those mineral balances out of whack, a condition called hyperparathyroidism. There are often no symptoms at first (though there can be fatigue, mental fogginess, depression, high blood pressure, and bone pain), and the disease is typically first found when a standard blood test finds abnormal mineral levels. Left untreated, however, it can lead to bone loss and osteoporosis, kidney stones, abdominal pain, anxiety, and high blood pressure.
Surgery to remove the affected gland is the best treatment option. But because the condition is fairly rare, most surgeons have little experience in the operation. Dr. Lawrence Gordon, however, is not like most surgeons. As chief parathyroid surgeon with the world-renowned New York Center for Advanced Parathyroid Surgery in Warwick, Dr. Gordon performs several such surgeries every week, while others may do no more than one or two a year. As such, his center is one of only a handful in the country that specializes in the operation and has treated patients from as far away as Russia for parathyroid disease.
You want his experience because, not only is the operation uncommon, the parathyroid glands have the annoying habit of not being where you expect them to be. “During fetal development, they sometimes drift to other areas of the throat, esophagus, or abdomen,” Dr. Gordon explains. To find the little glands takes both expertise (to know where to look) and high-tech imaging systems (to find what you’re looking for). “We have high-resolution ultrasound and nuclear scanners to look in all the places these tumors can hide,” he says. “Our success rate at finding the tumors is significantly higher than others.”
The surgery, which he performs at St. Anthony Community Hospital in Warwick, is done minimally invasively (unlike the older type of surgery), often requires only a local anesthetic, takes about 20 minutes, requires a small bandage, and allows the patient to go home the same day. Patients may suffer a sore throat or have difficulty swallowing for a short time after the surgery, but are usually back to normal in a few days.
Such success, he says, comes only from a specialist “who does a lot of these operations. This is our area of expertise.” For more information, visit www.advancedparathyroid.com.
Source: National Institutes of Health