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parathyroid glands

parathyroid glands (pârˌəthĪˈroid) [key], four small endocrine bodies, located behind the thyroid gland, that govern calcium and phosphorus metabolism. These four masses of tissue (each about the size of a pea) are difficult to distinguish from the thyroid and are often embedded in it. Consequently, before their significance was known they were sometimes accidently removed during thyroid surgery, causing a deficiency in parathormone, the parathyroid hormone. Parathormone increases the concentration of calcium ions in the blood, with accompanying bone absorption and increased reabsorption of calcium ions by the kidneys. The hormone's effect on phosphate ion concentration is the opposite, i.e., phosphate ion concentration in the bloodstream decreases as a result of increased phosphate excretion by the kidneys. Excessive secretion of parathormone, e.g., caused by tumor of the parathyroid glands, is a serious disorder, for excessive blood calcium can cause kidney stones and long-term weakening of the bones. Undersecretion of parathormone, which can be caused by congenital and metabolic disorders, results in too little calcium in the bloodstream, and too much phosphorus. The result is tetany, i.e., violent muscle spasms.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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