Sodium iodide

Sodium Iodine-131 (I-131)

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Sodium Iodine-131 (I-131)

Iodide I-131 (as Sodium iodide I-131) is a radioisotopic drug used for the treatment and palliation of thyroid malignancy. Iodine-131 is notable for causing mutation and death in cells that it penetrates, which is due to its mode of beta decay. As a result of beta decay, approximately 10% of its energy and radiation dose is via gamma radiation, while the other 90% (beta radiation) causes tissue damage without contributing to any ability to see or image the isotope.

Low levels of beta radiation are also known for causing cancer as this dose is highly mutagenic. For this reason, less toxic iodine isotopes such as I-123 are more frequently used in nuclear imaging, while I-131 is reserved for its tissue destroying effects. Because the thyroid gland naturally takes up iodine from the body, therapeutic methods using radioisotopes can take advantage of this mechanism for localization of drug to the site of malignancy.

Chemical properties:

I -131 can change directly from a solid into a gas, skipping the liquid phase, in a process called sublimation. I-131 dissolves easily in water or alcohol. I-131 readily combines with other elements and does not stay in its pure form once released into the environment.

Sodium iodide( I-131)


Therapeutic solutions of Sodium Iodide-131 are indicated for the treatment of hyperthyroidism and thyroid carcinomas that take up iodine. Palliative effects may be observed in patients with advanced thyroid malignancy if the metastatic lesions take up iodine. It is also indicated for use in performance of the radioactive iodide (RAI) uptake test to evaluate thyroid function.

Dosage forms

In medicine, I-131 is supplied in capsules or liquid of a specific activity designed to be swallowed by patients. As a product of nuclear fission, it is a dark purple gas that can be inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. I-131 in fallout from nuclear weapons or reactor accidents can occur in particle form, which can be ingested in food or water.

Pure I-131 is a non-metallic, purplish-black crystalline solid. However, because it readily binds with other elements, I-131 usually is found as a compound rather than in its pure form. For medical purposes, the I-131 capsules contain small granules of I-131 sodium iodide that are designed to be swallowed by patients. Liquid I-131 sodium iodide used to diagnose and treat thyroid disease is a clear liquid.

Mechanism of action

Taken orally, sodium iodide I-131 is rapidly absorbed and distributed within the extracellular fluid of the body. The iodide is concentrated in the thyroid via the sodium/iodide symporter, and subsequently oxidized to iodine. The destruction of thyroidal tissue is achieved by the beta emission of sodium iodide I-131.


After oral administration, sodium iodide I-131 is absorbed rapidly from the upper gastrointestinal tract (90% in 60 minutes). Following absorption, the iodide is primarily distributed within the extra-cellular fluid of the body. It is trapped by the thyroid. The thyroid uptake of iodide is usually increased in hyperthyroidism and in goiter with impaired hormone synthesis, decreased in hypothyroidism, and normal to decreased in hypothyroidism receiving iodine. It should be noted that the uptake of radioactive iodide is a function of stable iodide concentration in the serum and the functional state of the thyroid.


Sodium Iodide I-131 is excreted by the kidneys. The normal range of urinary excretion is 37 to 75 % of the administered dose, varying with the thyroid and renal function of the patient.


Trapped iodide is oxidized to iodine and organically incorporated so rapidly that the iodide trap of the thyroid contains less than 0.2 % free iodide in comparison to the organically bound iodine. This process results in further concentration of iodine in the thyroid gland to about 500 times that in the blood.


Iodine I-131 decays by beta emission and associated gamma emission with a physical half-life of 8.04 days.


External exposure to large amounts of I-131 can cause burns to the eyes and on the skin. Internal exposure can affect the thyroid gland, a small organ located in the neck near the Adam’s apple. The thyroid gland uses iodine to produce thyroid hormones and cannot distinguish between radioactive iodine and stable (nonradioactive) iodine. If I-131 were released into the atmosphere, people could ingest it in food products or water, or breathe it in. In addition, if dairy animals consume grass contaminated with I-131, the radioactive iodine will be incorporated into their milk. Consequently, people can receive internal exposure from drinking the milk or eating dairy products made from contaminated milk. Once inside the body, I-131 will be absorbed by the thyroid gland exposing it to radiation and potentially increasing the risk for thyroid cancer or other thyroid problems.

For more information about I-131, see the Public Health Statement by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry at, or visit the Environmental Protection Agency at

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