General Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine is a subspecialty within the field of radiology. It comprises diagnostic examinations that result in images of body anatomy and function. The images are developed based on the detection of energy emitted from a radioactive substance given to the patient, either intravenously or by mouth. Generally, radiation to the patient is similar to that resulting from standard x-ray examinations.

What are Some Common Uses of the Procedure?

Nuclear medicine images can assist the physician in diagnosing diseases. Tumors, infection and other disorders can be detected by evaluating organ function. Specifically, nuclear medicine can be used to:

  • Analyze kidney function
  • Image blood flow and function of the heart
  • Scan lungs for respiratory and blood-flow problems
  • Identify blockage of the gallbladder
  • Evaluate bones for fracture, infection, arthritis or tumor
  • Determine the presence or spread of cancer
  • Locate the presence of infection

How Should I Prepare for the Procedure?

Usually, no special preparation is needed for a nuclear medicine examination. However, you may be asked to drink plenty of water before the test.

The following test does require a preparation: Hepatobiliary (Hida), or Gallbladder with ejection fraction scans require the patient to have nothing to eat or drink after midnight.

What Does the Equipment Look Like?

During most nuclear medicine examinations, you will lie down on a scanning table. Consequently, the only piece of equipment you may notice is the specialized nuclear imaging camera used during the procedure. It is enclosed in metallic housing designed to facilitate imaging of specific parts of the body. It can look like a large round metallic apparatus suspended from a tall, moveable post or a sleek one-piece metal arm that hangs over the examination table. A nearby computer console processes the data from the procedure.

How Does the Procedure Work?

You are given a small dose of radioactive material, usually intravenously but sometimes orally, that localizes in specific body organ systems. This compound, called a radiopharmaceutical agent or tracer, eventually collects in the organ and gives off energy as gamma rays. The gamma camera detects the rays and works with a computer to produce images and measurements of organs and tissues.

How is the Procedure Performed?

A radiopharmaceutical agent is usually administered into a vein. Depending on which type of scan is being performed, the imaging will be done either immediately or a few hours later.

The radiopharmaceutical that is used is determined by what part of the body is under study.

While the images are being obtained, you must remain as still as possible. This is especially true when a series of images are obtained to show how an organ functions over time.

After the procedure, a physician with specialized training in nuclear medicine checks the quality of the images to ensure that an optimal diagnostic study has been performed.

What will I Experience During the Procedure?

Some minor discomfort during a nuclear medicine procedure may arise from the intravenous injection, usually done with a small needle. With some special studies, a catheter may be placed into the bladder, which may cause temporary discomfort. Lying still on the examining table may be uncomfortable for some patients.

Most of the radioactivity passes out of your body in urine or stool. The rest simply disappears through natural loss of radioactivity over time.

Who Interprets the results and how do I get them?

Most patients undergo a nuclear medicine examination because their primary care physician has recommended it. A physician who has specialized training in nuclear medicine will interpret the images and forward a report to you physician. It usually takes a day or so to interpret , report and deliver the results.

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