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Thyroid Conditions - What to Expect from Radioactive Iodine Treatment

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When treating certain thyroid conditions, sometimes it may be necessary for doctors to use radioactive iodine. So, the first question a patient should have is what exactly is radioactive iodine (RAI) and what are the risks?

As the ATA (American Thyroid Association) explains, RAI is iodine made into a radioactive substance for medical use. There are two types: I-123 and I-131. It is taken orally and is absorbed in the body like regular iodine. In the form of I-123, RAI is nondestructive. When in the form of I-131; however, RAI will destroy thyroid cells. Any excess RAI will be discarded from the body through either sweat or urine.

Kodak Moment

So you’re going in for imaging of your thyroid, eh? Well, you might have to take a dose of RAI. Don’t worry, it will only be a very small dose – enough so that the camera used can indicate where the radiation is. While the radiation assists with getting a clear picture, it also helps out with letting medical staff know the level of activity there is in the thyroid gland. And lastly, no, I-123 doesn’t have weird side affects. The ATA reports that I-123 is just about as harmless as taking a regular x-ray.

More Intense Treatment

I-131, on the other hand, is used to destroy thyroid cells. When the thyroid tissue is normal, doctors may use small amounts of I-131 to get rid of overactive tissue as in the case of hyperthyroidism. Next, I-131 is used to shrink thyroid glands that are enlarged. An enlarge thyroid gland doesn’t mean that the gland isn’t normal. It may mean; however, that because of the size itself, the patient may have problems breathing or swallowing. So, shrinking the thyroid would be necessary in this case. If patients experience any pain, aspirin or ibuprofen should do the job.

When a patient is battling cancer of the thyroid, large doses of RAI, I-131, is administered. The objective is to destroy all the cancer cells. There are precautions that the doctor will familiarize you with due to compliance with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In other words, you don’t want to expose anyone else, especially children, to the radiation that you may have left over in your body.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Thyroid Conditions

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