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Potassium iodide pills and prevention of thyroid cancer from Japanese nuclear power plant

March 14, 2011

About the Author

photo of Peter Wehrwein

Peter Wehrwein, Contributor, Harvard Health

Peter Wehrwein was the editor of the Harvard Health Letter from 1999 to May 2012. He is currently a freelance writer and editor, and contributes to the Harvard Health blog and Before editing the Health Letter, … See Full Bio
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December 21, 2011

I found a good article that goes in some depth on how radiation works that ties in why you should always keep potassium iodide pills handy if you live near a plant.

October 2, 2011

this is a very helpful article. specially in japan who recently have nuclear radiation crisis.
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September 7, 2011

One concern is how do we know that potassium iodide will have side effect to our health.

August 22, 2011

Surgery is the first option. Doctors will try and remove all of the cancer cells that they can find around your neck and throat region. They also work on the lymph nodes, checking for cancerous cells. In most cases, the surgery is successful.
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August 19, 2011

this is a very helpful article. specially in japan who recently have nuclear radiation crisis.

cancer gastrico
August 16, 2011

Thank you for this very informative article. It’s nice to know that there is a solution for this radioactive iodine from the explosion of nuclear power plant in Japan. Thanks for sharing this article.

August 10, 2011

Cancer is very rampant nowadays.
A lot of people are struggling hard to fight against the disease.
It’s so nice to see a very informative write-ups as this one.
[URL removed by moderator]

Osha Gray Davidson
March 18, 2011

I’ve read that Americans are stocking up on KI causing a shortage of the drug in Japan where it’s actually needed. Are these simply anecdotes or do you know if KI is actually in short supply in Japan?

P.J. Skerrett
March 20, 2011

Osha — I haven’t seen any reports like that. I did see early on that while some Americans were wringing their hands and rushing to stockpile a drug they didn’t need, the response by Japanese people close to the affected area was calmer and more organized.

Ulrich Decher
March 18, 2011

Correction to my earlier comment. Panic is not the only adverse effect of distributing KI. There are also heatlth effects from overdosing.

“At least seven people have reported reactions to the drug, often called by its chemical name, KI, including two who said they were suffering from serious symptoms including vomiting, racing heart and dizziness or vertigo.”

The article also mentions possibly shutting down the function of the thyroid gland.

Taking KI at this time is a really bad idea. Harvard should not be encouraging it.

Ulrich Decher Phd Nuclear Engineering

Ulrich Decher
March 18, 2011

I am surprised that you would use the Union Of Concerned Scientits as the only authoritative reference on the technical subject of radiation health effects.

The are other independent organizations on this subject which don’t have an anti-nuclear ax to grind. I recommend:

Health Physics Society


United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR)

Ulrich Decher Phd Nuclear Engineering

May 5, 2011

Is this MIT vs. Harvard?

Ulrich Decher
March 17, 2011

There is no indication form what we know today about the nuclear events in Japan that K-I pills are necessary in the US or Japan for that matter.

The only impact of the pills is to create unnecessary panic in populations which can have a definite negative health effect.

Ulrich Decher PhD Nuclear Engineering

March 16, 2011

Traveling to Hawaii 3/18-3/28. Would it be wise to take teh KI pills with us in case of another big explosion? What is the dosing for prevention? Thanks.

Carol Dunn
March 15, 2011

Iodine is disappearing from stores shelves in the US.

Could you provide some clarification about how important it is to only take iodine tablets if there is proof that you have exposed a large dosage of radiation, and not in advance on the chance that you might be exposed to low level radation?

August 17, 2011

I’m quite pleased with the informitoan in this one. TY!

Rachel Anderson
March 15, 2011

Dear Mr. Wehrwein,
Should Americans be taking potassium iodide pills to prevent uptake of the radioactive iodine released into the atmosphere by the recent Japanese nuclear explosions?
Thank you,
Rachel Anderson

Troy Jones
March 14, 2011

March 14, 2011 – 50,000 potassium iodide tablets have been donated by to Tokushukai Hospital in Toyko, Japan for immediate distribution to those affected by the nuclear reactor accident. This effort was facilitated by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a teaching facility of Harvard Medical School, in Boston, MA.

Sal A
March 14, 2011

Should one stockpile pills or liquid? I’m readying some information that only liquid potassium iodide is approved for use by the FDA for the purposes of treating radiation in emergency situations. Does it matter whether or not a treatment being purchased is FDA approved or not?

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