Radioactive iodine therapy is commonly used to treat hyperthyroidism. This article talks about how the treatment works, and what are its potential side effects.
Radioactive iodine is often used in medicine to treat certain conditions. The two commonly used forms of this iodine are I-131 and I-123. Both the forms release gamma rays that can penetrate long distances, and can be easily detected from outside the body. The radioactive iodine treatment, also known as radioactive iodine therapy, is generally used to treat hyperthyroidism. It is also used to treat cancer of the thyroid.
What is Radioactive Iodine Therapy?
This therapy involves the use of radioactive form of iodine, I-131. It is generally recommended as a treatment for hyperthyroidism. This is normally done when thyroid medication or surgery fails to cure the condition. It is also used to treat thyroid nodules, that produce excessive amounts of thyroid hormones and other thyroid problems. This treatment destroys the thyroid gland completely, and ensures that no thyroid cells remain intact. Hence, it is sometimes recommended as a treatment for thyroid cancer.
How does it Work?
This treatment is based on the fact that thyroid gland actively absorbs all the iodine from blood. It uses this iodine to produce thyroid hormones that are required for various functions of the body. Now, when a radioactive form of iodine enters the body, it is absorbed by the stomach and intestine, and is carried to the thyroid through the bloodstream. The thyroid gland readily takes up all the radioactive iodine from the blood. This disrupts the function of the thyroid cells, ultimately destroying all the thyroid cells present in the thyroid gland as well as those present anywhere else in the body.
Radioactive iodine is a type of internal radiation treatment, that involves administration of small doses to be taken orally, in the form of liquid or capsules. It is specific in its action and does not affect the rest of the body. It passes out of the body after a few weeks. Higher the dose, more the number of thyroid cells that cease their functions. This treatment option has been used to treat patients with papillary or follicular thyroid cancers. It can also be used to treat thyroid cancer that has spread to the neck or other parts of the body. However, the therapy is not recommended for those with anaplastic thyroid cancer or medullary thyroid cancer, as these types of cancers show negligible response to the treatment.
- Dry mouth
- Change in taste
- Upset stomach
- Swelling of salivary glands
- Neck tenderness
- Sore throat
Large doses may cause loss of fertility in men. Research shows that a very small number of people also develop leukemia, after being treated with large doses of radioactive iodine.
Radioactive iodine gets accumulated in the neck region for a few days after the treatment. Some precautions need to be taken to prevent friends and family from being exposed to the radiation. Treated individuals should follow the precautions given below:
- Prolonged contact with others, especially children and pregnant women should be avoided.
- Food, and utensils like glasses, dishes, bottles, water, etc., should not be shared.
- One should drink a lot of water and other fluids.
- Laundry of the treated person should be washed separately.
- One must not breast feed, as the radioactive iodine is concentrated and excreted in the breast milk.
Radioactive iodine destroys all the thyroid cells, and hence, people treated for thyroid cancer have to be on thyroid hormone pills for the rest of their life. However, it is best to consult a doctor for the same.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.