RADIATION DISPERSAL FROM JAPAN
NOTE: This page is archived for historical purposes and is no longer being maintained or updated.
What is Potassium Iodide (KI)?
Potassium iodide (also called KI) is a salt of stable (not radioactive) iodine. Stable iodine is an important chemical needed by the body to make thyroid hormones. Most of the stable iodine in our bodies comes from the food we eat. KI is stable iodine in a medicine form.
This fact sheet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gives you some basic information about KI. It explains what you should think about before you or a family member takes KI.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
What does KI do?
Following a radiological or nuclear event, radioactive iodine may be released into the air and then be breathed into the lungs. Radioactive iodine may also contaminate the local food supply and get into the body through food or through drink. When radioactive materials get into the body through breathing, eating, or drinking, we say that “internal contamination” has occurred. In the case of internal contamination with radioactive iodine, the thyroid gland quickly absorbs this chemical. Radioactive iodine absorbed by the thyroid can then injure the gland. Because non-radioactive KI acts to block radioactive iodine from being taken into the thyroid gland, it can help protect this gland from injury.
What KI cannot do?
Knowing what KI cannot do is also important. KI cannot prevent radioactive iodine from entering the body. KI can protect only the thyroid from radioactive iodine, not other parts of the body. KI cannot reverse the health effects caused by radioactive iodine once damage to the thyroid has occurred. KI cannot protect the body from radioactive elements other than radioactive iodine—if radioactive iodine is not present, taking KI is not protective.
How does KI work?
The thyroid gland cannot tell the difference between stable and radioactive iodine and will absorb both. KI works by blocking radioactive iodine from entering the thyroid. When a person takes KI, the stable iodine in the medicine gets absorbed by the thyroid. Because KI contains so much stable iodine, the thyroid gland becomes “full” and cannot absorb any more iodine—either stable or radioactive—for the next 24 hours.
Iodized table salt also contains iodine; iodized table salt contains enough iodine to keep most people healthy under normal conditions. However, table salt does not contain enough iodine to block radioactive iodine from getting into your thyroid gland. You should not use table salt as a substitute for KI.
When should I take KI?
After a radiologic or nuclear event, local public health or emergency management officials will tell the public if KI or other protective actions are needed. For example, public health officials may advise you to remain in your home, school, or place of work (this is known as “shelter-in-place”) or to evacuate. You may also be told not to eat some foods and not to drink some beverages until a safe supply can be brought in from outside the affected area. Following the instructions given to you by these authorities can lower the amount of radioactive iodine that enters your body and lower the risk of serious injury to your thyroid gland.
For more detailed information about Potassium Iodide (KI) go to http://emergency.cdc.gov/radiation/ki.asp.
- Page last reviewed: March 21, 2011 (archived document)
- Content source:
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Office of the Director