Protecting Your Family After Radioactive Iodine Treatment

Children and infants are especially at risk

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If radioactive iodine treatment (RAI) is recommended as part of your treatment for Graves’ disease, hyperthyroidism, or thyroid cancer, you will most likely be given it as an outpatient. Because the radioactive iodine used (known as iodine 131) may expose those around you to the effects of radiation (and theoretically negatively affect their thyroid glands), you will be given guidelines on how to prevent such exposure.

The following recommendations will give you an idea of precautions to take to avoid exposing other people (as well as pets) to iodine 131, which may be present in bodily fluids or occur as a result of close contact. The recommended timeframes are based on the size of the dosage you are receiving, so discuss the specifics with your doctor prior to treatment.

Thyroid Disease Treatment

Keep Your Distance

Here are some ways to minimize radiation risks to other people (and pets) after you have had RAI treatment:

  • Stay at least six feet away from other people, including members of the public, family members, and co-workers, for three to 11 days. This means avoiding public transportation, hotels, carpools, and in some cases, your workplace.
  • Sleep apart from adults by at least six feet (a separate bedroom is recommended) and avoid sexual activity.
  • Avoid sleeping in the same bed with a pregnant woman, infant, or child for a period of six to 23 days. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, infants and children should ideally stay outside the home for the recommended period.
  • To protect the family pets, do not sleep with them for up to 21 days.

Your doctor will give you specific guidelines regarding how long various restrictions should remain in place in order to protect those around you.

Infants and Children

Be particularly careful around infants and children, who are especially at risk for exposure complications.

If you are unable to avoid direct or indirect contact with infants and young children, ask your doctor about the possibility of hospitalization. It is not common in the United States to hospitalize patients after RAI, but if you are receiving a particularly high dosage of iodine 131 and have no way to protect children or babies, it may be an option.

The Low Iodine Diet for Radioactive Iodine Treatment

Household Safety

To further avoid exposing others to radiation:

  • Do not share any towels, razors, toothbrushes, cups, spoons, forks, or dishes.
  • Do not cook for anyone else.
  • Use disposable dishes and place them in a specially marked plastic bag for disposal.
  • Wash your clothes separately.

Travel Tips

If you will be traveling via airplane or crossing an international border in the period following RAI treatment, you must be provided with a written document from your doctor stating they you have been given a medical treatment involving radiation, as security monitoring devices can detect it.

Most thyroid patients who receive RAI treatment eventually end up hypothyroid and will need to take thyroid hormone replacement drugs indefinitely.

Official Guidelines

Before you or any family members have RAI treatment, it is strongly recommended that you read up on post-RAI guidelines and speak with your doctors about how they should be applied to you.

Society of Nuclear Medicine Procedure Guidelines (PDF)
Practice Recommendations of the American Thyroid Association (PDF)
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