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What is a thyroid nuclear scan?

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A nuclear thyroid scan utilizes nuclear medicine imaging to determine the functionality of the thyroid, according to Healthline. After taking a radionuclide pill or liquid, the doctor takes pictures of the patient's thyroid using a camera.

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Once the radionuclide is in the thyroid, the scanner detects the radionuclide and sends images of the thyroid to a computer, notes MedlinePlus. The procedure is usually done in conjunction with a radioactive iodine uptake test. Thyroid scans last approximately 30 minutes and take place in the nuclear medicine department of the hospital. Two scans are taken about a day apart. A thyroid scan helps doctors diagnose hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, thyroid cancer and other thyroid problems, states Healthline.

Thyroid scanning is useful for patients with thyroid cancer because the procedure can determine if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, asserts MedicineNet.com. The radionuclide iodine also helps doctors find nodules in the thyroid that are functioning or non-functioning. The functioning nodules absorb the iodine and normal absorption usually indicates that the thyroid is healthy. Nodules that take up too much iodine may indicate an overactive thyroid, asserts MedlinePlus. Thyroid scans are generally considered safe, but they are not recommended for pregnant women.

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