Thyroid Nuclear Testing: Understanding the Imaging and Purposes Behind a Thyroid Scan

November 17, 2022

AdobeStock_251551805Your thyroid is a vital hormone gland that plays a significant role in the development, growth, and metabolism of the body. By maintaining a consistent amount of thyroid hormones in the bloodstream, several body functions can be regulated. The thyroid is located under your voice box at the front of your neck. Because the thyroid is responsible for the effective function of so many activities, imbalances and problems can have significant consequences.

An overactive thyroid will produce too many hormones. Also referred to as hyperthyroidism, this can cause unintentional weight loss, rapid heartbeat, anxiety, sweating, and several other symptoms. An underactive thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones. Also referred to as hypothyroidism, this can cause fatigue, weight gain, muscle weakness, slower heart rate, aches, and many other symptoms. Changes in the size and shape of the thyroid can also cause problems. A diffuse goiter is a result of the entire thyroid becoming enlarged. A nodular goiter is the existence of individual lumps that are growing in the gland. When these signs exist, they can be identified with a thyroid nuclear scan.

What is Thyroid Nuclear Testing?

A thyroid scan uses nuclear medicine in order to access the emissions of gamma rays from the radioactive iodine. Hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, cancer, and other issues can all be identified through this scan. For nuclear thyroid testing, you take a pill that contains radioactive iodine that will collect in the thyroid. Once ingested it takes about 4-6 hours for the first scan to pick it up. You may take a second scan the next day.

The scanner will detect the location and intensity of the emitted gamma rays. These results are displayed on a computer that will show any possible issues like goiters, nodules, and other potential thyroid problems.

Are There Any Risks Associated with a Nuclear Thyroid Test?

There are possible side effects that accompany any radiation treatment. However, due to the small amount of radiation in the radioisotope in this scan, there are rarely complications. Pregnant or nursing women should consult their physician before having this test administered. The benefits of this test typically outweigh the risks.

What do Abnormal Thyroid Scan Results Mean?

There are several things that a nuclear thyroid test can discover. Nodules tend to absorb a different amount of iodine (more or less) and will appear darker or lighter on the scan. A tumor can be indicated if the thyroid appears enlarged or is pushed toward one side. Lighter areas on the scan can be a sign of thyroid dysfunction.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of hyper or hypothyroidism, or other health problems that could stem from thyroid issues, a nuclear thyroid test can be the first step of your treatment. The experts at Lane Regional Medical Center’s imaging center can help you with all of your imaging needs.