Thyroid Ablation

What you should know

  • Thyroid ablation is a procedure done to decrease the function of some, or all of your thyroid gland. Thyroid ablation is usually done with a medicine called radioactive iodine (RAI). Your thyroid gland is at the lower, front part of your neck, and is butterfly shaped. Your thyroid gland makes hormones, and controls your metabolism which helps give you energy. A very active thyroid gland (thyrotoxicosis) and too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) may need thyroid ablation as treatment. Other medical problems that may need thyroid ablation are thyroid nodules (lumps) and thyroid cancer. Having ablation after surgery for thyroid cancer may be needed to get rid of any thyroid gland left. It may also be needed if thyroid cancer has spread to other areas of the body.

  • For thyroid ablation you will take RAI as a pill or liquid. RAI may be given through your vein (IV) if you cannot take a pill or liquid. You may need to change your diet and have blood, urine, and other tests done before your procedure. After thyroid ablation, you may need to take thyroid medicines for the rest of your life. More than one RAI treatment may be needed. Repeat treatments are usually at least three months apart. You may need to stay in the hospital after your procedure, or you may be able to go home. You may need to follow safety rules to keep others safe from the radiation in your body.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


  • You may be allergic to RAI, your symptoms may get worse, or the treatment may not work. You may become hypothyroid (not enough thyroid hormone) and need thyroid medicines for the rest of your life. RAI may hurt your salivary glands (organs that make saliva) causing painful swelling in your face and neck. A condition called thyroid storm may occur if too much thyroid hormone is released into your body. A thyroid storm may cause high fever, fast heartbeat, high blood pressure, and may be life-threatening. You may have eye dryness, headache, nausea and vomiting, infection, trouble swallowing, taste changes, and dental cavities. Women may have trouble getting pregnant, and men may have trouble getting their female partner pregnant. You are also at risk of having facial nerve problems, lung problems, and certain cancers.

  • If you do not have needed thyroid ablation, your signs and symptoms may get worse. You may become very tired, have tremors (shaking), bowel changes, palpitations (abnormal heart beat), and weight loss. Thyroid nodules may get larger and make it harder for you to talk or breathe. You may get Grave's disease, pituitary gland tumors, or thyroid goiters (masses). If you have thyroid cancer, it may spread to other areas of your body. Without treatment, certain thyroid conditions may become life-threatening, and you may die. Talk to your caregiver if you have questions or concerns about your procedure and care.

Getting Ready

Before your procedure:

  • Blood and urine tests: You may need to have blood and urine tests. If you are female, you may need to have a pregnancy test done.

  • Diet changes: You may need to decrease, or stop eating foods with iodine in them. Ask your caregiver for a list of foods to stay away from.

  • Medicines:

    • Two weeks before your procedure, you may need to stop taking any medicines with iodine in them. You may also need to stop taking antithyroid medicines. Antithyroid medicine lowers the amount of thyroid hormone made by your thyroid gland. This medicine may also cause your thyroid to stop making any thyroid hormone.

    • Your caregiver may have you take certain medicines before your procedure. These may help your thyroid cells hold on to the RAI that will be given to you. If your thyroid cells do not hold on to the RAI, your procedure may not work as well. Ask your caregiver for more information about pre-treatment medicines.

  • Thyroid scan: This test shows caregivers how well your thyroid is working. Radioactive dye is put into your IV or is given to you to drink. The working part of the thyroid gland absorbs (soaks up) the dye. Two to 48 hours later, caregivers put a machine called a scintillator over your neck. The machine takes pictures showing the areas of your thyroid that absorbed the dye.

The night before your procedure:

  • Ask caregivers about directions for eating and drinking.

The day of your procedure:

You or a close family member will be asked to sign a legal document called a consent form. It gives caregivers permission to do the procedure or surgery. It also explains the problems that may happen, and your choices. Make sure all your questions are answered before you sign this form.

  • Write down the correct date, time, and location of your procedure.


What will happen:

  • When you are ready, you will be given the RAI to drink, or as a pill to swallow. This medicine damages cells in your thyroid gland, decreasing the amount of thyroid hormone in your blood. This may help your body work better. If you cannot swallow the medicine, your caregiver will put an IV into your arm. An IV is a tube put into your vein for giving medicine or liquids.

  • You may need to stay in your hospital room to keep others safe from the radiation inside you. Your food trays and bedding will be kept in a special area until they are free from radiation. You may need to flush your toilet 2 to 3 times after going to the bathroom. Your garbage will be checked for radiation before being taken away. You will need to drink fluids so you do not become dehydrated (not enough fluid in your body). You may be given medicine to decrease side effects such as nausea (upset stomach) and vomiting (throwing up). When your caregiver thinks it is safe, you will be able to go home.

Contact a caregiver if

  • You are losing weight without trying.

  • You cannot make it to your procedure.

  • You get sick (cold or flu), or have a fever.

  • You are female, and think you may be pregnant.

  • You have diarrhea (loose watery stools) that will not stop.

  • You have questions or concerns about your procedure.

Seek Care Immediately if

  • You are sweating more than usual.

  • Your heart beat (pulse) is more than 100 beats per minute.

  • You suddenly have a very bad headache.

  • You suddenly have trouble breathing.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.