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How can a tiny gland in the neck cause a condition that can be life-threatening? A malfunction or the removal of your parathyroid can cause hypocalcemia, which means that you have low calcium levels in your body. Read on to learn whether you might have this potentially dangerous condition.
Hypocalcemia is a Greek term that means “low calcium.” From a clinical point of view, it means that there’s less than 2.2mmol of calcium per liter of blood.
The condition can be transient (meaning it doesn’t last very long), or it can be chronic (meaning it lasts for quite a long time).
You know that you need calcium for strong and healthy bones. But calcium plays other roles in the body.
Parts of your body communicate with one another through electrical signals. Calcium helps those electrical signals travel through the body. If calcium levels in your body are too low, the electrical signals won’t be able to go anywhere, and your body won’t be able to function properly.
Hypocalcemia has a few causes, some of which are directly related to the parathyroid.
Hypoparathyroidism is the result of low levels of the parathyroid hormone. The parathyroid controls calcium levels in the body. The parathyroid is located near the thyroid, but their functions are unrelated. If you have low levels of parathyroid hormones, you’ll have low calcium levels.
Another cause of hypocalcemia is pseudohypoparathyroidism. The difference between hypoparathyroidism and pseudohypoparathyroidism is that the when you suffer from the second condition, your body is producing regular levels of the parathyroid hormone, but it doesn’t detect it or respond to it.
There are a number of signs that alert you to your condition. On their own, they might mean nothing, but together, they paint a disturbing picture for medical professionals.
You’ll notice the following symptoms: pins and needles or numbness in your extremities or around your mouth (known as paresthesia), mood changes such as anxiety, depression, or irritability, an inability to concentrate and feeling a “brain fog,” muscle spasms (known as tetany), difficulty swallowing, a raspy voice, fatigue or weakness and dizziness. In severe cases, patients have seizures, irregular heartbeats and laryngospasms (which are seizures of the voice box).
What happens when you leave hypocalcemia untreated? Your teeth can be affected, because they can’t stay strong without calcium. Because calcium can’t help your brain send electrical signals, you could suffer from long-term mental health issues. Some people with untreated hypocalcemia experience memory loss or dementia.
Even if you present all of these symptoms, your doctor still can’t be sure that your blood calcium levels are low.
How does your doctor determine you if have hypocalcemia? He or she will order a blood test. If your blood calcium levels are below a certain number, there’s a very good chance you’ve got hypocalcemia.
Once you’ve received a diagnosis of hypocalcemia, you’ll be placed on an IV containing calcium gluconate.
It’s important to start treatment as soon as possible so that your body gets the calcium it so desperately needs. If you have chronic hypocalcemia, you’ll have to take calcium tablets to ensure your calcium levels stay where they need to be.
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