If you’ve never had an Thyroid Scan, you may be a little nervous. But there is no need to be afraid, as a thyroid scan is a non-invasive and painless procedure. Knowing what to expect during your exam will help you to be prepared and feel at ease.
What is a Thyroid Scan?
A Thyroid Scan is a procedure which focuses on the thyroid gland, which sits near the front of your throat. This gland produces hormones which play a major role in regulating your body’s metabolism, which is the process which converts food to energy. Thyroid problems can lead to cascading negative effects throughout your body.
The thyroid scan, also known as a Thyroid Uptake or a Radioactive Iodine Uptake Test (RAIU), is a form of nuclear medicine, very similar to the PET Scan. Like the PET Scan, a thyroid scan utilizes a mildly radioactive tracer material, which is typically injected or ingested, to help provide a contrast and highlight finer details in the targeted area – in this case, the thyroid gland.
Before Your Exam
You may be asked to fast before the exam. The staff will notify you of any such requirements at the time your appointment is scheduled.
Please disclose any history of allergic reactions, especially if you know of a specific allergy to iodine. You should also notify your doctor or technician if you have eaten any foods with high levels of iodine, such as sushi, kelp, seaweed, or cough syrup.
Women are asked to disclose any pregnancy or potential pregnancy, or if they’re breastfeeding. While the dose of radiation is low, it could still potentially have an impact on a developing fetus or a newborn. Your doctor may choose to utilize a different type of exam or postpone.
You may be asked to change into a gown.
If there are any other requests or requirements, you will be informed at the time that you schedule your appointment.
What to Expect During the Exam
You may be asked to remove metal jewelry, such as necklaces. It is advisable to leave such valuables at home on the day of your exam.
A radioactive iodine tracer will be administered as a drink, pill, or IV, after which you must wait for the iodine to be taken up by the thyroid. This can be as little as thirty minutes for an injection, or four hours for ingested tracers. In some cases, you may be given the tracer to ingest and asked to return the next day for the imaging portion.
A staff member will ask you to lie on a table or sit in a chair for the exam, depending on the specific machine in use. The camera will then begin to capture images of your thyroid at different angles. You may be asked to change positions slightly between shots. The procedure can take between five and thirty minutes, depending on the camera in use and the amount of detail needed.
What to Expect After the Thyroid Exam
You may return to regular activities right away. Your doctor will notify you of the results within a few days.
You may be asked to return within 24 hours for a second round of imaging.
You should drink plenty of fluids to ensure that your system is flushed of the iodine tracer, unless you are asked to return for more imaging. If you are asked to come back the next day, be careful not to flush too much from your system too quickly.
Nursing mothers should wait 24 hours before resuming breastfeeding – ensuring to dispose of any milk pumped within that 24-hour window of the exam. It would be advisable to pump at the 24- or 25-hour mark and dispose of that before resuming regular breastfeeding.
If you feel or notice any allergenic symptoms, such as itching, sneezing, redness at the injection site, rashes, hives, nasal congestion, itchy eyes, pain, nausea, vomiting, or dizziness, then you should notify the staff before leaving the diagnostic center. If you notice these symptoms after leaving, you should contact your doctor or proceed directly to the nearest emergency room. If symptoms become severe, call 911.
Your technician will advise you if there are any additional precautions or requirements.