Radioactive iodine is the most widely used Graves' disease treatment in the United States. It is an effective and permanent way to cure Graves' disease. Destroying the thyroid with radiation is also called radioiodine ablation.
Because the thyroid gland collects iodine to make thyroid hormone, it will collect the radioactive iodine in the same way. The radioactive iodine will gradually destroy the cells that make up the thyroid gland but will not affect other tissues in the body. The amount of radiation used is small and does not appear to cause cancer.
Radioiodine is given as a liquid or in capsule form. It is given as a single dose, although the full effects are not seen for about 6 to 18 weeks.
Sometimes, more than one round of radioiodine ablation is needed to bring thyroid hormone production into the normal range. In the meantime, treatment with beta blockers can control symptoms. A second round of therapy is needed about 20 percent of the time.
There is the possibility of exposing close contacts to low doses of radiation. Therefore, healthcare providers recommend avoiding close contact with young children and pregnant women for three to seven days after treatment. People should also avoid sharing utensils or cups, as well as sexual contact during this period.
Almost everyone who receives radioactive iodine treatment eventually develops hypothyroidism (low thyroid levels). Healthcare providers consider this an acceptable outcome, however, since hypothyroidism is easier to treat and has fewer long-term problems than Graves' disease. If a person does develop hypothyroidism, they will need thyroid hormone replacement therapy(see Hypothyroidism Treatment).
Pregnant women should not receive radioiodine therapy, and any pregnancy should be delayed for four to six months after this treatment is completed.
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