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Thyroid Scan and Uptake

Last updated Jan. 22, 2019

Myohan at en.wikipedia

Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure is a type of nuclear medicine imaging technique that is used to measure the thyroid function.


Background Information:

What are the other Names for the Procedure?

  • Radioactive Iodine Uptake (RAIU)
  • Thyroid Nuclear Scan
  • Thyroid Nuclear Uptake

What is Thyroid Scan and Uptake radiology procedure? (General Explanation)

  • Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure is a type of nuclear medicine imaging technique that is used to measure the thyroid function
  • The thyroid gland is located in the neck area and produces hormones, which controls the metabolism of the body and affects multiple organ systems
  • Small amounts of radioactive materials are used during this procedure
  • In general, nuclear medicine detects molecular activity within the body, which helps identify various diseases, such as cancers, heart diseases, gastrointestinal disorders, neurological disorders, or endocrine diseases

What part of the Body does the Procedure involve?

The thyroid gland (located in the neck) is involved during the scan and uptake procedure.

Why is the Thyroid Scan and Uptake radiology procedure Performed?

The thyroid scan is performed to diagnose a variety of medical conditions and to determine the size and position of the thyroid gland. The thyroid uptake procedure is used to determine the function of thyroid gland. The procedure can help in:

  • Diagnosing hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, and thyroid cancers
  • Detecting the presence of lumps and nodules in the gland, and to determine if the nodule is benign or malignant
  • Thyroid cancer patients often get a whole-body scan to determine metastasis of thyroid cancer to other parts of the body

What is the Equipment used? (Description of Equipment)

The following equipment may be used in the Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure:

  • Single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and gamma camera for imaging
  • Gamma cameras are able to detect radiation emitted from the patient’s body after radioactive material is administered to the patient. It is a box-like machine with examination table built in the middle, which slides in and out of the box
  • The SPECT rotates the gamma camera head to produce 3-dimensional images of the target organ

What are the Recent Advances in the Procedure?

There are no recent advances to the Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure.

What is the Cost of performing the Thyroid Scan and Uptake radiology procedure?

The cost of Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure depends on a variety of factors, such as the type of your health insurance, annual deductibles, co-pay requirements, out-of-network and in-network of your healthcare providers and healthcare facilities.

In many cases, an estimate may be provided before the procedure. The final amount depends upon the findings during the surgery/procedure and post-operative care that is necessary. 

When do you need a Second Opinion, prior to the Procedure?

  • It is normal for a patient to feel uncomfortable and confused with a sudden inflow of information regarding Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure and what needs to be done
  • If the patient needs further reassurance or a second opinion, a physician will almost always assist in recommending another physician
  • Also, if the procedure involves multiple steps or has many alternatives, the patient may take a second opinion to understand and choose the best one. They can also choose to approach another physician independently

What are some Helpful Resources?

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25694271 (accessed on 03/10/2015)

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25679074 (accessed on 03/10/2015)

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25679071 (accessed on 03/10/2015)

Prior to Thyroid Scan and Uptake radiology procedure:

How does the Thyroid Scan and Uptake radiology procedure work?

  • The Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure uses radiotracers, which are injected, swallowed, or inhaled by the patients
  • Once these radiotracers are in the body, they accumulate in organs and give-off gamma rays that can be detected by gamma cameras and SPECT
  • After detection of these gamma rays, a computer program is able to create a 3-dimensional image of the target organ and give details about the structure and function of the organ, thus helping in the diagnosis

How is the Thyroid Scan and Uptake radiology procedure Performed?

A thyroid scan procedure is performed in the following manner:

  • The patient is positioned on the examination table in a supine position with their neck extended
  • An IV line is inserted in the patient’s arm vein
  • Radiotracer required during the procedure is given through the IV line, swallowed, or inhaled
  • If the radiotracer is given by mouth, patients are required to take the radiotracer material 24 hours before the scan, so it could accumulate in the thyroid gland before the scan
  • Images are taken using gamma camera from various angles
  • The patient will be asked to remain still during the imaging session, to get better quality of images
  • After all the images required are taken, the IV line is removed and patient is allowed to leave

The thyroid uptake procedure is performed in the following manner:

  • The patient is given radioactive iodine in the form of a capsule to swallow
  • Iodine uptake by thyroid gland is measured at different times, as it accumulates in the thyroid gland
  • The patient is positioned in sitting position in a chair
  • A stationary probe, which measures the radioactive iodine accumulation in thyroid gland, is placed over the thyroid gland in the neck area
  • Images are taken using the stationary probe
  • The patient may be asked to wait, while the radiologist/technologist checks if all the required images are taken
  • Once all the images are taken, the patient is allowed to leave

Where is the Procedure Performed?

A Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure is performed as an outpatient procedure, at a hospital.

Who Performs the Procedure?

A radiology technologist performs the Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure under the supervision of qualified radiologist.

How long will the Procedure take?

  • The thyroid scan takes about 30-60 minutes to complete
  • The thyroid uptake takes up to 15 minutes to complete
  • The total time for a Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure is between 2-3 hours

Who interprets the Result?

An interventional radiologist interprets the results of the Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure.

What Preparations are needed, prior to the Procedure?

The following preparations are needed prior to a Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure:

  • Blood test to check the thyroid hormone levels is usually performed a day before the thyroid scan
  • Patients should inform their physicians about their medical conditions, medications, and any over-the-counter medications or herbal supplements that they are taking
  • Patients should inform their physician, if they are allergic to any medications, especially to iodine and radioactive material used in the procedure
  • Women should inform their physicians if they are pregnant, or if there are any chances of the same
  • Women should also inform their physicians if they are breast-feeding, as the radioactive iodine material can end up in breast milk
  • Patients should specifically inform their physicians, if they are taking any herbal medications or regular medications containing iodine, such as cough syrup, multivitamins, heart medications, kelp, and seaweed
  • Patients will be asked not to eat or drink for several hours before the exam, as it may interfere with the test results

Additional specific instructions regarding preparations before the thyroid scan may be provided.

What is the Consent Process before the Procedure?

A physician will request your consent for Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure using an Informed Consent Form.

Consent for the Procedure: A “consent” is your approval to undergo a procedure. A consent form is signed after the risks and benefits of the procedure, and alternative treatment options, are discussed. This process is called informed consent. 

You must sign the forms only after you are totally satisfied by the answers to your questions. In case of minors and individuals unable to personally give their consent, the individual’s legal guardian or next of kin, shall give their consent for the procedure.

What are the Benefits versus Risks, for this Procedure?

Following are the benefits of a Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure:

  • It gives information about the function and anatomic structure of the target organ
  • It is a painless, less expensive, noninvasive, and an outpatient procedure
  • It provides precise information to diagnose medical conditions related to the thyroid gland

Following are the risks of Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure:

  • Small amount of radiotracers are needed in this procedure; thus, there is a very low level of radiation exposure involved
  • Some individuals may be allergic to the radiotracers used in the procedure

What are the Limitations of the Thyroid Scan and Uptake radiology procedure?

Following are the limitations of the Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure:

  • This procedure is time-consuming and may take several hours, as accumulation of radiotracers may require a long time
  • CT or MRI scans provide images with better resolution than through a nuclear medicine scan. However, a CT or MRI scan cannot provide functional information about the organ, which can be obtained through the nuclear medicine scan (such as a thyroid scan)
  • The Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure cannot be performed in pregnant women, as it may expose fetus to the radiation. Radiation exposure may potentially lead to fetal birth defects

What are some Questions for your Physician?

Some of the basic questions that you might ask your healthcare provider or physician are as follows:

  • What is a Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure?
  • Why is this procedure necessary? How will it help?
  • How soon should I get it done? Is it an emergency?
  • Who are the medical personnel involved in this procedure?
  • Where is the procedure performed?
  • What are the risks while performing the procedure?
  • What are the complications that might take place during recovery?
  • What are the possible side effects from the procedure? How can I minimize these side effects?
  • How long will it take to recover? When can I resume normal work?
  • How many such procedures have you (the physician) performed?
  • Are there any lifestyle restrictions or modifications required after the procedure is performed?
  • Are there any follow-up tests, periodic visits to the healthcare facility required after the procedure?
  • Is there any medication that needs to be taken for life after the procedure?
  • What are the costs involved?

During the Thyroid Scan and Uptake radiology procedure:

What is to be expected during the Thyroid Scan and Uptake radiology procedure?

The following may be expected during the Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure

  • It is a painless and non-invasive procedure
  • If the radiotracer is injected into the patient, he/she may feel slight pain from the needle prick
  • The injection of radiotracer may give a cold sensation
  • Patient will be asked to stay still during the imaging procedure, to minimize disturbances in imaging

What kind of Anesthesia is given, during the Procedure?

No anesthesia is used during the Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure.

How much Blood will you lose, during the Procedure?

Since the Thyroid Scan and Uptake Procedure is a noninvasive procedure, no blood is lost during the procedure.

What are the possible Risks and Complications during the Thyroid Scan and Uptake radiology procedure?

  • The patient may be allergic to radiotracers used in Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure
  • Radiotracer injection may cause a little pain at the site of injection

What Post-Operative Care is needed at the Healthcare Facility after the Thyroid Scan and Uptake radiology procedure?

No specific post-operative care is needed at the healthcare facility after the Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure.

After the Thyroid Scan and Uptake radiology procedure:

What is to be expected after the Thyroid Scan and Uptake radiology procedure?

  • Patients may resume their normal activities immediately after the Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure, unless instructed otherwise
  • Small amounts of radioactive iodine may remain in the body and gets eliminated over time, through urine and stool. Patients are recommended to drink plenty of water to get rid of the radioactive iodine material faster

When do you need to call your Physician?

You may need to call your physician in the following situations after a Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure:

  • If there is significant pain after the procedure, or if there is bleeding from the IV insertion site
  • If you experience any fever or chills

What Post-Operative Care is needed at Home after the Thyroid Scan and Uptake radiology procedure?

  • Patients are recommended to drink plenty of water to get rid of the radioactive iodine material from their body faster, after the procedure
  • Generally, no other postoperative care is necessary at home

How long does it normally take to fully recover, from the Procedure?

  • No recovery period is necessary after the Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure
  • Individuals may resume their normal activities immediately after the procedure

Additional Information:

What happens to tissue (if any), taken out during the Procedure?

The Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure does not involve the removal of any body tissue.

When should you expect results from the pathologist regarding tissue taken out, during the Procedure?

Since no tissue is removed during the procedure, a pathologist does not get involved in the care of the patient.

Who will you receive a Bill from, after the Thyroid Scan and Uptake radiology procedure?

It is important to note that the number of bills that the patient may receive depends on the arrangement the healthcare facility has with the physician and other healthcare providers. 

Sometimes, the patient may get a single bill that includes the healthcare facility and the consultant physician charges. Sometimes, the patient might get multiple bills depending on the healthcare provider involved. For instance, the patient may get a bill from:

  • The hospital, where the procedure is performed
  • Healthcare providers, physicians, and radiologists, who are involved in the process

The patient is advised to inquire and confirm the type of billing, before the Thyroid Scan and Uptake procedure is performed.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: March 24, 2015
Last updated: Jan. 22, 2019