Radioactive iodine therapy is a quick, simple procedure that involves swallowing a single pill. In some cases, the treatment may be in the form of powder dissolved in water. Radioactive iodine therapy is commonly used to treat hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid gland. If a patient has hyperthyroidism, her thyroid makes too much of the hormone thyroxine, leading to a higher metabolism, weight loss, and irritability. Radioactive iodine therapy is also sometimes used to treat thyroid cancer. While radioactive iodine therapy is quick and has few if any side effects, there are some precautions you need to take before and after the treatment.
After you swallow the pill or powder that contains radioactive iodine, your digestive tract will absorb the iodine and transfer it to your bloodstream, where it will travel directly to the thyroid. Once in the thyroid, the iodine, which is different from regular iodine because it has an extra beta particle, will begin destroying thyroid cells, putting an end to hyperthyroidism or eradicating the cancer. The treatment usually results in an under-active thyroid. After radioactive iodine therapy, you will need to take a synthetic thyroid hormone for the rest of your life.
The side effects of the therapy are usually mild and infrequent. You may experience some pain in the gland, which will feel like a sore throat. Your neck may feel tender, and your salivary glands may swell. If you experience any of these side effects, you may want to try sucking on lozenges to ease the pain. Other side effects include dry mouth, nausea, and change in taste.
For up to 11 days after the treatment, you will need to take certain precautions since your neck will be releasing radiation. Keep friends and family at a distance, especially young children and women who are pregnant. If you usually sleep with a partner, you will need to sleep alone. Avoid going to social activities as well as to the movies or even sitting next to someone on the couch for a more than just a few minutes. You can hug others, but do so quickly.
You should drink plenty of fluids after radioactive iodine therapy. Since the iodine is secreted through urine and other bodily fluids, you should flush the toilet twice after using it. You may want to launder your clothing and wash your dishes separately from others to prevent contamination or exposure to the radiation.
It usually takes about six months for the therapy to run its course. During this time, do not become pregnant and do not breastfeed any infants. If you are a woman, you will have to take a pregnancy test within a day before the therapy to make sure you are not pregnant.