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Nuclear Medicine Studies

Nuclear medicine is diagnostic imaging using very small amounts of radioactive materials to image organ function and structure. Types of scans includes kidney, thyroid, bone, heart, brain, gallbladder, and lungs.

What is nuclear medicine?

Nuclear medicine technology uses radioactive isotopes to obtain images that give the physician information from within the body. A radioactive isotope is attached to a drug that is attracted to a specific area or function within the body, and the drug is then injected into the patient’s vein. Some time is allowed to elapse so the drug can spread throughout the body, and then the patient is placed in front of a “camera” that captures the radiation coming from inside the body. Information about what this drug is collecting within the body gives the physician information that can help diagnose or treat a disease. These exams can focus on any organ.

Most nuclear medicine exams last about 15 minutes for the injection, and about one hour for the camera. Your primary care physician must refer you to the nuclear medicine team. At least one day advance notice is needed so the isotope can be ordered, since the isotope and drug needed for the exams are created specifically for each patient for his or her size and appointment time. Because these drugs expire within hours, it is very important to be on time for a nuclear medicine exam and to let the Radiology Department know more than one day ahead if you need to cancel or reschedule an appointment.

How should I prepare for a nuclear medicine exam?

  • You may be required to fast for a specific period of time. Please check with your doctor’s office regarding specific instructions.
  • You may also be asked to not take certain medications for some tests. Please check with your doctor.
  • If scheduled for a thyroid scan, please inform your doctor’s office if you are taking any thyroid medication or if you have had a recent CT with contrast in the last 4 - 6 weeks.
  • Please inform your doctor’s office if you are, or think you may be pregnant.

What should I expect during this exam?

A nuclear medicine scan involves two or three phases; you may need to come back to the hospital once or twice after the initial phase is completed. The first phase consists of administration of the tracer (radioactive material.) The second and third phases involve obtaining the images or pictures. The time required will vary according to the test.

You may be connected to an EKG monitor, and you will lie on a table in a procedure room. An intravenous (IV) line will be started in your hand or arm. During the procedure, it is important to remain very still, as motion can interfere with the quality of the pictures. You may be asked to change positions to obtain

What will happen after the exam?

For a nuclear medicine exam, patients first come to Radiology and receive the isotope injection into a vein. You can then leave for a period of time, and return after the isotope has had time to circulate throughout the body. You will be asked to change into hospital pajamas, and then lie on a table, or sit or stand next to the camera. The camera then measures the radioactivity coming from within the body and computers create an image that shows the location where the radioactivity is coming from. Collections of the isotope will create bright spots, often called “hot spots” on the image. These hot spots may indicate normal function or abnormal conditions

The completed images are examined by a board certified radiologist who is an expert in interpreting nuclear medicine. The report is then sent directly to your physician, who will contact you with the results.