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Women's Health

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Understanding Graves' Disease -- Diagnosis and Treatment

What Are the Treatments for Graves' Disease? continued...

The two most frequently used treatments involve disabling the thyroid's ability to produce hormones.

One common approach uses a strong dose of radioactive iodine to destroy cells in the thyroid gland. This procedure attempts to halt excess hormone production by thinning the ranks of cells responsible for manufacturing the hormones. The amount of radioactive iodine received depends on the estimated size of the thyroid -- determined either through a physical exam or by ultrasound -- and on the gland's level of activity, as indicated by the results of an iodine uptake test. Despite its destructive effect on thyroid cells, the iodine used in this procedure will not harm surrounding tissues and organs.

At the beginning of the treatment, you will be given a capsule or liquid containing the radioactive iodine. Either way you take it, you should not feel any effects as the substance enters your system. Most of the iodine will gather and remain in your thyroid; excess amounts will be excreted in urine. It is a good idea to drink several extra glasses of water per day for about a week after the treatment to help flush the material out of your body as quickly as possible. To be on the safe side, you should also limit contact with infants, children, and pregnant women for at least seven days after you ingest the iodine.

You probably won't notice any changes for several days after taking the radioactive iodine, but if your thyroid gland feels inflamed and sore, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin can offer some relief. Over the next several months, the thyroid's hormone secretion should gradually begin to drop. During this time you need to see the doctor for periodic checkups to determine how well the treatment is progressing. Chances are good that a single dose of radioactive iodine will be sufficient to correct hyperthyroidism. However, if the condition hasn't improved three months or so after your initial treatment, your practitioner may give you a second dose of iodine. Once the doctor has decided that your Graves' disease is effectively under control, you will still need to have routine checkups to make sure that your thyroid levels remain within the normal range.

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