Ectopia of the parathyroid glands

Last revised by Arlene Campos on 30 May 2024

Ectopic parathyroid glands involve the atypical location of a parathyroid gland resulting from aberrant migration during early development.

Ectopic parathyroid glands are a common cause of recurrent hyperparathyroidism.

It is more common for the inferior parathyroid glands to be ectopic than the superior parathyroid glands, with estimates around 62% compared to 38% respectively 1. The prevalence of ectopic parathyroid glands varies greatly based on the literature, ranging from 6.3% to 52% based on cadaveric studies 1.

The superior parathyroid glands developed from the fourth pharyngeal pouch, and the inferior parathyroid glands develop from the third pharyngeal pouch. Given the inferior parathyroid glands undergo greater extensive migration during embryogenesis, they are of greater likelihood to be found in ectopic locations.

Ectopic inferior parathyroid glands are typically intrathymic in the anterior mediastinum 2. In contrast, the ectopic superior parathyroid is in the tracheoesophageal groove.

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