Radioiodine treatment of the thyroid gland

Mar 18, 2012 , Tereza Kratochvílová

lecba-stitne-zlazy-radiojodem.jpg - kopie
lecba-stitne-zlazy-radiojodem.jpg - kopie
A fear of all radioactive still persists in our society, but there is no reason to fear this treatment. While a radioactive compound is applied to the body, the dose is entirely safe. This treatment is very successful and painless. Its only unpleasant part is the length of hospitalization an the isolation necessary due to the compound's radioactivity.

Radioiodine treatment of the thyroid gland

The thyroid gland is an endocrine gland, which releases very important hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and tetraiodothyronine (T4) directly into the bloodstream. In order to produce these hormones, it needs a sufficient amount of iodine, which is why cells of the thyroid gland directly specialize in absorbing iodine from blood. The thyroid gland is controlled by another endocrine gland, the hypophysis. If the thyroid gland gets out of hypophysis' control, due to cancer, for example, the levels of T3 and T4 hormones increase. An increase of these hormones is known as hyperthyroidism and has very unpleasant consequences for a majority of bodily functions. In that case, radioiodine treatment is viable.

How is radioiodine used

One of the methods of treating hyperthyroidism is a radioiodine treatment. By applying radioiodine to the body, it utilizes the fact that the thyroid gland as the only tissue in the body, absorbs preferentially both iodine and its radioisotopes. There are two uses for radioiodine in treating the thyroid gland, diagnostic and therapeutic. A method called scintigraphy is used for diagnosing diseases of the thyroid gland with radioiodine. This is done by applying a small amount of radioiodine, which is absorbed by the thyroid gland. In a healthy gland, the radioiodine will distribute equally, but if there is an area which produces and releases hormones uncontrollably, its consumption of radioiodine increases. This manifests by a buildup of the radioiodine in that area. Radioiodine emits radiation, which is captured by a special scintillation camera. Thanks to this camera we can see where there is more or less radioiodine and thus diagnose the area where a node is. These nodes are called hot if the accumulate iodine or cold if the do not. They can signify a a hyperactive adenoma or a differentiated carcinoma. Further examination is required to confirm this diagnosis, however. The second use of radioiodine is therapeutic. After the thyroid gland absorbs the radioiodine, the radiation will begin to destroy the cells. This effect is used for destroying overly active parts of the thyroid gland. These parts use more iodine, meaning they get destroyed quicker. Only the cells that work normally and thus utilize less iodine will survive. Radioiodine treatment is also used after removing the thyroid gland (thyroidectomy) to destroy any remnants of the gland that weren't removed.

What to prepare for before radioiodine application

Radioiodine treatment is a relatively safe method, used for more than 50 years. In that time it has proven itself on many patients. An endocrinologist decides whether to use this treatment and it is done on specialized departments of nuclear medicine. A hospitalization is necessary for this treatment. Sometimes it needs to be repeated. The radioiodine application itself is painless, it is taken orally as a solution or a pill, intravenous application is less common. An isolation is required afterward. Hospitalization is need for at least two weeks. This is because the patient emits radiation for this period of time and is therefore a risk for others, but he also needs to be monitored for any complications. After being released, the patient should keep increased hygienic precautions and keep away from other people, especially children and pregnant women, for at least another two weeks.

Possible side effects of radioiodine treatment

Side effects of radioiodine treatment are rare and not very serious. Sometimes pain in the thyroid area may occur, occasional nausea or symptoms tied to hyperthyroidism. Radioiodine has no effect on fertility, but as a precaution, it is recommended to plan pregnancies no earlier than 6 months after the treatment. While a fear of all radioactive may still persist, there is no need to fear this treatment. The amount of radiation applied to the body is entirely safe and the treatment is highly successful and painless, its only disadvantage is the length of hospitalization and the patient's isolation.

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