Secondary Hyperparathyroidism: Benign Bystander or Culpable Contributor to Adverse Health Outcomes?

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Elevation in serum parathyroid hormone (PTH) often accompanies vitamin D deficiency and renal impairment. PTH elevation in renal failure is viewed as an unfavorable development. Evidence is increasing that PTH elevation may be associated with increased morbidity and mortality. In many instances these PTH effects appear to be independent of vitamin D status. PTH mediates its effects through the ubiquitous type 1 PTH/PTH-related peptide receptor, which is notably present in the cardiovascular system. Increased PTH may promote cardiovascular disease through diminished cardiac contractility, enhanced coronary risk, and cardiac valvular and vascular calcification. High PTH levels appear to be linked to the metabolic syndrome and are aligned with hyperlipidemia, decreased insulin sensitivity, and, perhaps, decreased insulin secretion. Increased PTH also is associated with neuroendocrine activation, increased sympathetic activity, and endothelial stress. The relation between PTH and vitamin D is complex and may show significant threshold variations, especially when calcium intake, age, and race are considered. Moreover, evidence is increasing that fragments of PTH may not only be hormonally active but also may have opposing effects to PTH. Despite these caveats, PTH values provide useful clinical diagnostic and prognostic information in monitoring many chronic ailments such as heart and renal failure and multiple sclerosis.