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Thyroid and Parathyroid Glands: What's the Difference?

Medically reviewed by Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Tracey Romero · Updated Jan 07, 2022

Thyroid and Parathyroid Glands: What's the Difference?

What Are the Thyroid and Parathyroid Glands?

What are the thyroid and parathyroid gland?

Thyroid Gland

The thyroid gland is located right in front of the trachea or the windpipe and below the larynx. It has a butterfly shape with the wings connected in the middle. It can actually be felt from the outside of the neck even when it is normal-sized.

The thyroid gland has a brownish-red color and it is very rich in blood vessels. Nerves that are crucial for regulating the quality of the voice also pass through this area.

The thyroid gland produces several hormones which are collectively called the thyroid hormones. The main hormone it produces is thyroxine, which is also known as T4.

The thyroid hormones affect the entire body. They have an effect on growth, development, and metabolism. Getting enough thyroid hormones is also essential during infancy and early childhood to ensure proper development.

Parathyroid glands

The parathyroid glands are four oval-shaped glands that are located right next to the thyroid glands. Each is about the size of a pea. These glands secrete parathyroid hormone. This is essential for the regulation of the calcium levels in the blood. The correct calcium level in the body is important because small changes in calcium level can lead to serious nerve and muscle problems.

The parathyroid hormone also facilitates the absorption of calcium from food and the release of calcium into the bloodstream.

Thyroid and Parathyroid Glands: Thyroid Gland Conditions

There are several conditions that can affect the impact and function of the thyroid gland.

These thyroid problems are relatively common. For instance, over 1 billion people are at risk of iodine deficiency which can result in thyroid problems. Another common cause of thyroid problems is autoimmune disease.

Common thyroid diseases in women include:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Thyroid cancer

Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are ten times more common among females.

It is estimated that 200 million people around the world have some form of thyroid disease. Many of them are not even aware that they have this health problem.


Hyperthyroidism happens when the thyroid gland becomes overly active and overproduces hormones. A common cause of hyperthyroidism in women is Graves’ disease, which is an autoimmune problem. In this condition, the antibodies target the thyroid gland, which leads to an increase in hormone production.


Sometimes the thyroid’s hormone production is not sufficient for the body’s requirements. This may be due to the thyroid glands being improperly formed during birth, or because of some other reason. These lead to hypothyroidism.

Hypothyroidism may be caused by an autoimmune disease known as Hashimoto’s disease. This disease causes the antibodies to attack the thyroid gland damaging its ability to produce hormones.

Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer is by far the most common kind of endocrine cancer today. There are four types of thyroid cancer:

  • Papillar
  • Follicular
  • Medullary
  • Anaplastic

The good news is that most types of thyroid cancers develop slowly. That means there is a good chance that the growth can be detected and it can be treated in a timely manner.

Thyroid Problems and Pregnancy

Thyroid problems are linked to pregnancy problems, miscarriages, and even infertility. Infants born to mothers with thyroid problems can also have low birth weight and developmental problems. This is why it’s important for pregnant women to know the status of their thyroid glands.

Thyroid and Parathyroid Glands: Parathyroid Gland Conditions

Women are twice likely to develop parathyroid gland problems as men. Among these conditions is parathyroid adenoma, one of the most common conditions of the parathyroid glands.

There are instances when noncancerous growths appear on the parathyroid glands. These growths are known as adenomas. Those growths cause the glands to produce more parathyroid hormone than is needed by the body. Too much of this hormone will upset the calcium balance of the body.

Too much calcium in the bloodstream caused by parathyroid adenoma may cause:

  • Pain in the abdominal area
  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes and irritability
  • Kidney stones
  • Aches with no visible causes
  • It is possible for those who suffer from this condition to not feel symptoms at all.

    Doctors diagnose parathyroid adenoma by the appearance of high calcium levels in the blood during routine blood checks. The most common form of treatment for parathyroid adenoma is to remove the enlarged glands. Surgery will take care of the problem for 98% of cases but there are cases where the patient is too sick for that. In those instances, medication is the only solution.

    Key Takeaway

    The thyroid and parathyroid glands play a crucial role in human health. The thyroid gland helps manage growth, development, and metabolism. The parathyroid glands, which are situated alongside the thyroid gland, are responsible for regulating calcium levels in the body. Women are more prone to suffering from conditions that affect the thyroid and parathyroid glands.

    Learn more about Female Hormonal Imbalance here.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD

    General Practitioner

    Written by Tracey Romero · Updated Jan 07, 2022

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