Applications of Nuclear Medicine to the Thyroid Gland
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Applications of Nuclear Medicine to the Thyroid Gland

In the field of nuclear medicine, specialists use isotopes to diagnose and treat various conditions. A thyroid scan is a nuclear medicine test that employs an unstable isotope of iodine to diagnose conditions of the thyroid gland.

In the field of nuclear medicine, specialists use isotopes to diagnose and treat various conditions. A thyroid scan is a nuclear medicine test that employs an unstable isotope of iodine to diagnose conditions of the thyroid gland.

The Thyroid Gland

The thyroid affects virtually every system of the body.The thyroid is a gland in the neck that plays an important role in metabolism. The thyroid gland is vital to metabolic function. An abnormally functioning thyroid can be either overactive, which is called hyperthyroid, or underactive, which is called hypothyroid.

Unstable Isotopes

The thyroid is located in the neck. A chemical element can exist in different forms, called isotopes, depending on the number of neutrons in the nucleus of its atoms. Certain isotopes of many elements are unstable, which is to say radioactive. Over time, the nuclei of their atoms release energy until they become stable.

Nuclear medicine makes use of radioactive compounds. The doses of radiation used in radiation cancer therapy are highly damaging to biological tissue. Ionizing radiation is radiation that removes electrons from atoms and molecules, thus creating positive ions. This radiation may be particles, such as protons, neutrons, or nuclei of atoms, or it may be electromagnetic waves. In the case of electromagnetic waves, it is the more energetic waves that are ionizing. This includes some ultraviolet (UV) light, as well as all x-rays and gamma rays. Ionization of atoms and molecules can lead to damage of human tissue.

Radioactive Iodine

The thyroid gland is vital to metabolic function Iodine is vital to the function of thyroid cells. Thus, an isotope of iodine known as iodine-123, or I-123, is useful in diagnosing thyroid conditions. When cells are more active, they take up more iodine from the blood.

Monitoring

An unstable isotope is an isotope that is radioactive. A thyroid scan is one of many tests done in nuclear medicine. Because I-123 is unstable, it releases energy constantly. In a thyroid scan, I-123 is injected into the blood. Radiation detectors (special cameras) are then pointed at the neck, and the thyroid gland can be imaged. Based on how quickly I-123 is absorbed into the thyroid, and the patterns in which different parts of the gland absorb it, thyroid disorders can be diagnosed.

Thyroid Conditions

Radioactive Iodine can be used to diagnose many conditions.

Conditions that can be diagnosed using I-123 scanning include hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism (each of which has many possible causes) and various thyroid tumors.

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