Andy Thornton

Vintage English Pluviophile, Bemused New American, Open Source advocate

A place to ramble on the internet.

Living with Hypoparathyroidism

I am often asked why I use a cane to walk and thought this was a good opportunity to provide some information and links to resources for the condition knows as hypoparathyroidism.

In 2009 I developed a thyroid disorder resulting in a tumour that was restricting my breathing. It also resulted in low thyroid levels which caused issues with weight gain, slow healing and general all round fatigue. To give you an idea of how this affects healing, I was living in Georgia with my wife and two dogs and one day I got the equivalent of a rope burn from the leash, it took months to heal. I had the mark on my leg for almost a year. Cuts and bruises take a lot longer to heal up.

My weight also went up, by over 100lbs. I do credit part of the gain to a more sedentary lifestyle but thyroid function did play a part. I was only able to talk when I breathed out as breathing was difficult. As this was becoming life threatening, my endocrinologist and oncology surgeon decided I needed to have my thyroid completely removed. The tumour was large enough that it was starting to wrap round my spine, so removing it was something of an issue (cool scar though). I remember waking up and feeling the weight gone and I could breath again. I cant even explain how that feels. I was in a lot of pain, my eyes were red, I couldnt move but I was smiling because it didnt matter. I could breath.

One consequence of the surgery was an issue with my parathyroid glands. Normally they are the size of a grain of rice and you have 4 of them, they regulate a hormone which handles calcium in your body. The tumour had destroyed 3 of them and the one that was left feels like a sputtering light bulb. You can get by on one, but my calcium levels were severely fluctuating. So calcium was an issue from this point on, so how does it affect me?

Some of the symptoms are uncontrollable muscle spasms (tetany), I dont get these as bad as some. I mainly experience it in my face and around my eyes. My eyes will judder sometimes which is a side affect of Graves Disease. I get a muscle twitch around the eyes and sometimes in my fingers, hands and feet. Its nothing more of an inconvenience and just feels weird sometimes, but its also a good indicator that its time to take a calcium supplement.

Other symptoms of low calcium are tingling in the hands in feet, lips get slightly numb and your thinking gets fuzzy. However,the most inconsiderate symptom is muscle cramping. I can get a muscle cramp in my arm from holding a cell phone. Walking cramps everything up. Think of it like going to the gym and doing a lot of squats, that muscle contraction and pain where you cant stand anymore? thats what it feels like walking to the mailbox. The act of sitting at my desk can cramp my arms and shoulders as I type and is excruciating at times.

I take a synthroid hormone due to my missing thyroid and for the hypoparathyroid condition, lots of calcium and metaxalone which is a muscle relaxant which can help un-knot things so I can move a lot easier. Pain killers are the norm, but to be honest I rarely take them unless needed as they have side affects and can fog your thinking as well as damage your stomach if you take them in excess. Another side affect of hypopara is developing extremely low testosterone which for an adult male is around 1070 (ng/dL), mine was coming out at 24 (ng/dL). So in addition to the other medication, I give myself an intramuscular injection of testosterone once a week.

You become something of a calcium squirrel I have supplements all over the place, in my desk at work, my bag and usually I carry it with me. Although too much calcium has long term issues with kidney and brain damage through calcification deposits. So I keep an individual dosage below 500mg. Some antacids have extremely high calcium dosages (which is worrying), so calcium citrate in small doses through out the day are the norm.

The more extreme symptoms can land you in the emergency room with the potential for larynx shock (laryngospasm) and heart failure (its a big muscle after all). The good news is that you develop symptoms of low calcium long before they become a problem. Muscle spasms and general pain are common symptoms for me. Overall I am still alive and kicking and can breath and trust me when I say, being able to breath after a long time of having difficulty is an amazing feeling and the rest is just something you learn to deal with.

As to the cane, it helps me stand from sitting without putting too much strain on my legs, standing is also difficult sometimes and the cane really helps as I can distribute the load to my arms. The extra weight has also resulted in a compacted disk in my back and the cane helps take off some of the load. Its not habit forming, doesnt have side affects like the meds and I can get around a lot easier with it.

If your interested in knowing more, here are some resources online:

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