About Nuclear Medicine Imaging
Nuclear medicine imaging procedures are noninvasive tests that use small, harmless amounts of radioactive material to help doctors diagnose or treat a variety of medical conditions, including:
- Many types of cancers
- Heart disease
- Bone lesions
- Other abnormalities within the body
Board-certified radiologists and cardiologists at Magee-Womens Imaging, specially trained in nuclear medicine, perform:
- Back (SPECT) scans
- Bone scans
- Cardiac stress tests
- DMSA scans (pediatric)
- Gallbladder scans
- GI bleed scans
- Lung V-Q scans
- Melanoma sentinel node
- MUGA scans
- Renal scans
- Sodium-fluoride PET scans to assess bone lesions
- Thyroid uptake scans
- White cell location
What to Expect
Nuclear imaging scans use radioactive materials called radiopharmaceuticals or radiotracers. Depending on the type of nuclear medicine exam you are undergoing, the radiotracer is either:
- Injected into a vein
- Inhaled as a gas
The radiotracer gives off energy in the form of gamma rays. This energy is detected by a device called a gamma camera, and/or probe. These devices work together with a computer to measure the amount of radiotracer absorbed by your body and to produce special pictures offering details on both the structure and function of organs and tissues.
It can take anywhere from several seconds to several days for the radiotracer to travel through your body and accumulate in the organ or area being studied. As a result, imaging may be done immediately, a few hours, or even several days after you have received the radioactive material.
The length of time for nuclear medicine procedures varies greatly, depending on the type of exam. Actual scanning time for nuclear imaging exams can take from 20 minutes to several hours and may be conducted over several days.
Except for minor discomfort during any necessary intravenous injections, most nuclear medicine procedures are painless and are rarely associated with significant discomfort or side effects.
- When the radioactive material is injected into your arm, you may feel a cold sensation moving up your arm, but there are generally no other side effects.
- When swallowed, the radiotracer has little or no taste.
- When inhaled, you should feel no differently than when breathing room air or holding your breath.
During the test, you will need to remain still for brief periods of time. When it's time for the imaging to begin, the gamma camera:
- Will take a series of images
- May move down the body, rotate around you, or stay in one position
- May move very close to your body to obtain the best quality images
When the examination is complete, your Magee radiologist or cardiologist will interpret the results and determine if additional images are needed. Occasionally, more images are obtained for clarification or better visualization of certain areas or structures.
Preparing for Your Nuclear Medicine Imaging Procedure
Based on the type of scan you are undergoing, you:
- Will receive specific instructions, such as food restrictions or taking medications
- Might need to wear a gown during the exam or may be allowed to wear your own clothing
Women should always inform their doctor or radiologist if there is any possibility of pregnancy or if they are breastfeeding.
After Your Nuclear Medicine Imaging Procedure
Before you leave the nuclear medicine department, your Magee radiologist or a physician will inform you of any special instructions. Usually, you can resume your normal activities after your nuclear medicine scan, unless your doctor tells you otherwise.