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Nuclear Imaging

Nuclear medicine, or scan, uses a small amount of a radioactive substance to produce two or three dimensional images of body anatomy and function. Sometimes a nuclear scan is combined with a CT scan. Nuclear medicine makes it possible to view parts of the body and diagnose conditions that would typically require surgery, and can detect certain disease in very early stages.

Common uses of nuclear medicine

  • Nuclear medicine images can assist the physician in viewing, monitoring or diagnosing
  • Tumors
  • Blood flow and function of the heart
  • Respiratory and blood-flow problems in the lungs
  • Organ function - of the kidney, bowel, gallbladder and others

How to prepare for this procedure

Usually, no special preparation is needed. However, if the exam is done to evaluate the stomach, you may be asked to refrain from eating immediately before the test. If the exam is done to evaluate the kidneys, you may need to drink plenty of water before the test.

What to expect during this procedure

Although imaging time can vary, the exam generally takes 20 to 45 minutes. A radiopharmaceutical, known as a tracer, is usually administered either intravenously or by mouth. What radiopharmaceutical is used and when is dependent upon the type of exam you're having. For most nuclear scans, you will lie down on a table and a nuclear imaging camera will be used to capture the image of the area being examined. The camera is either suspended over or below the exam table or in a large donut-shaped machine similar to a CT scanner. While the images are being obtained, you must remain as still as possible. Most of the radioactivity is expelled out of your body in urine or stool. The rest simply disappears over time.

What you may experience during the procedure

Although usually done with a small needle, some patients experience some minor discomfort from the intravenous injection or IV. Also, lying still on the examining table may be uncomfortable for some patients. You will hear low-level clicking or buzzing noises from the machine.