Magazine article Science News

Parathyroid Surgery Proves Its Worth

Magazine article Science News

Parathyroid Surgery Proves Its Worth

Article excerpt

Tiny glands that go into a frenzy of hormone production can cause kidney disease and bone damage. Because these overactive parathyroid glands often produce no overt symptoms, however, doctors are frequently unsure whether to remove them surgically. A new study indicates that this operation can provide long-term benefits even for patients with no apparent problems.

As small as peppercorns, the four parathyroid glands in the neck nevertheless pack a big punch. The hormone they make regulates blood concentrations of calcium, which is crucial to basic metabolic functions.

In 15 to 25 people per 100,000, at least one of the glands is hyperactive, usually due to a benign tumor. The flood of hormones that results can silently drain calcium from bones, inflate its concentration in the blood, and dump it into the urine.

In the new study, doctors at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York identified 121 people with elevated blood-calcium concentrations, indicating hyperactive parathyroids. Of these, 61 had opted for surgery to remove their parathyroids while 60 had not. Several people in each group had obvious symptoms, usually a history of kidney stones, but most showed no outward signs of disease.

After tracking all the patients for a decade, the scientists report that surgery provided relief from several problems. For example, 12 patients had had kidney stones before surgery, but none of them did during the 10 years afterward, the scientists report in the Oct. 21 NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE (NEJM). Among the nonsurgery group, 8 had had kidney stones before the study began, and 6 of these people experienced a recurrence during the study.

In the decade after their surgery, patients averaged bone density gains of 12 percent in vertebrae and 14 percent in hip bones, says study coauthor Shonni J. …

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