Radioactive Man...
February 21, 2006 8:51 PM   Subscribe

My friend was just diagnosed with Graves Disease and the doctor decided it was so serious he should immediately get radioactive iodine treatment, and he was given a 16mCi pill today. So, apparently, he is very radioactive right now, and would set off Homeland Security terror alerts in airports if he walked through.

The issue is that he and his wife have an 6 month old baby who had serious heart problems when he was only 2 months, and my friend's wife is seriously concerned about her (since she's breatfeeding) and her baby's peripheral exposure to my friend's radioactive emissions.

My friend's doctor said to follow the basic radioactivity safety precautions for a week, and then everything will be OK, but she is finding other contradictory information that says you should take precautions against the radioactivity for a month!

Right now, she feels like she doesn't want her husband coming near her or the baby for a year.

Does anyone know enough about the safety of this treatment to help us better determine if my friend's doctor is being far too cavalier about how long they need to follow the radioactivity safety guidelines? Or information I could share with them to help reassure them, and calm their fears?
posted by extrabox to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You can find any medical information you want on the Internet. Soothing, harmful, scary, worthless, correct. I'd venture to say your doctor has a good idea of what he's talking about, and you can get a second opinion if you're not comfortable. Get all your questions answered, and keep asking if they aren't. Have you talked to the doctor that has treated the baby and wife?
posted by kcm at 8:56 PM on February 21, 2006

Which will be more harmful for the baby - not having contact with its father for a month, or year, or a de minimus exposure to radiation, which even over time probably amounts to less than taking an airline flight and almost certainly less than an x-ray (but I have no data to support that)?
posted by caddis at 9:10 PM on February 21, 2006

The second-to-last answer here links to pubmed research references.

The half life of Iodine-131 is about 8 days (so in a week, the levels of radiation in your friend is already about halved). After a month there'll be less than 1% of the original amount of radiation. That's why they use iodine for this treatment; after a short period of time it ain't hardly in his body no more, so it's a focused effect (and highly targeted, as it only affects the thyroid). Additionally, there are background amounts of that isotope around already (albeit not much); it's a human produced fission product. So it's not like keeping daddy away for a year will insulate baby completely anyways.

dittoing kcm that your friend's wife should rely on her doc, not the scary intarwebs.
posted by neda at 9:35 PM on February 21, 2006

BTW the radioactive iodine isn't a "treatment." It's to determine whether the body is in fact being affected by the disease, it's a test to diagnose.
posted by Napierzaza at 10:28 PM on February 21, 2006

Napierzaza: This is indeed a treatment. You're confusing Radioactive Iodine treatment with the Radioactive Iodine Uptake (RIU) test, which involves ingestion of a tracer. A 16mCI pill is no tracer.
posted by vacapinta at 10:47 PM on February 21, 2006

Based on the half-life of I-131, a week of precautions should do it -- as I recall it (when I had 30 millicuries of radioiodine for thryoid cancer), I was told to stay within 10 ft. of babies/pregnant women/animals, double flush after using the toilet, sleep alone, and eat with separate plates/utensils. It was sort of like having a really irritating but basically pretty lame, short-lived superpower.
posted by scody at 11:30 PM on February 21, 2006

when i had radioactive iodine treatment for graves, i was told to take similar precautions for only three days.
posted by judith at 11:43 PM on February 21, 2006

Three points:

1. Graves disease is a thyroid problem, not a heart problem.

2. People tend to have a tremendous fear of anything "radioactive", but for many things, rem-dosage is very low and not of great concern. Many watches have (or used to have) radium in the painted numbers.

3. Agree that she should listen to her doctor instead of relying on the internet. It is fair to raise with the doctor anything found on the net. By this time, they've heard it all.
posted by yclipse at 4:39 AM on February 22, 2006

yclipse - It's the father that has Graves, the baby that has heart trouble.
posted by raedyn at 6:05 AM on February 22, 2006

Right now, she feels like she doesn't want her husband coming near her or the baby for a year.

Yeah, see, that's just crazy talk. She should listen to what the doctor says. They tend to know about medical things.
posted by bshort at 6:40 AM on February 22, 2006

I do radioactive iodine every year to treat cancer. To be safe, and according to my doctor's instructions, I stay far away from pets and children for a week and spend less than 2 hours in the immediate presence of any single individual. I also follow ALL other radioactivity precautions.

1. I wash my hands constantly and drink loads of water.

2. I use paper plates and plastic silverware and dispose of my trash separately.

3. I flush several times and wipe down sinks and toilets after each use. I use one bathroom. Everyone else in the house uses the other during my treatment period.

4. At the end of the week, I wash all of my linens and clothes *separately* from everyone else's, then run an empty cycle to rise out the works.

5. I sleep alone.

I've been following these precautions every year for the last 5, and all of the instructions from all the different specialists have always been the same. At the end of the week they do a scan that shows radioactivity in my body. There's not much at all left--it's all concentrated in my neck (where the cancer is) and in my digestive system (bladder/bowel), about to be voided.

If I was super concerned, I'd probably talk to the doctor about my fears. Either way, radioactive iodine is processed by the thyroid, not the heart.
posted by xyzzy at 7:04 AM on February 22, 2006

I have a female friend who had this treatment and she was allowed to try to concieve a baby the month after the radiation was administered.
posted by Mitheral at 7:47 AM on February 22, 2006

I had this treatment. Was living in a dorm at the time, and had to block off a toilet just for me. Housekeeping had great fun finding a radioactive sign for the door.

Like Judith, the precautions were for 3 days. I discussed this with my doctor, and my college talked with their doctors, because radioactive, cancer filled alumnae were not in the annual plan.

Sleep alone for 3 days, use a seperate toilet for 3 days (with no cleaning by anyone else). Using the same shower as everyone else was ok. That was it. No big deal.

As an aside, I tried to control my Graves' Disease through medication for 2 years before agreeing to the radioactive iodine, because I was scared of the evil radiation. Big mistake. I put myself through two years of physical and emotional trauma trying to stabilize my thyroid levels that way. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
posted by QIbHom at 11:24 AM on February 22, 2006

I do not have any personal experience with this, (unlike some of the other posters) but a quick googling suggests that during the initial period of isolation, the goal is to flush as much iodine out of the system as possible-- ie, the iodine that has not been taken up by the thyroid.

The arguments about the half-life of iodine do not really pertain as much to this process- the speed at which radiation leaves the body is dependent on how quickly it is secreted or eliminated (by sweat, and going to the bathroom. This is all dependent on the biological speed of your body (it isnt technically metabolic, but that word suggests the idea in a loose sense.)

At the end of the initial period of isolation or hospitalization, almost all of the iodine not in the thyroid has left, and from that point onward, you can rely on the half-life formula for what remains in the body.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 2:33 PM on February 22, 2006

Thank you all, I really appreciate all the great comments...It's just a scary time for them, and it helps to have the additional information you have offered and your thoughts. Much appreciated!
posted by extrabox at 5:56 PM on February 22, 2006

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