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Nuclear Medicine Test Preparation at UPMC in Central Pa.

Nuclear imaging uses small, safe amounts of radioactive material through injection, inhalation or ingestion, to show the function and structure of organs. As part of our commitment to providing high-quality imaging care, our caring staff will make your procedure as relaxed and stress-free as possible.

The following information will help you prepare for several nuclear imaging procedures.

Note: If you are pregnant or think you might be pregnant, it is very important that you notify your imaging technologist before your Nuclear Imaging procedure. Exposure to radiation can be harmful to an unborn baby.

Before your Nuclear Imaging procedure starts, our imaging technologists will ask you questions about your health and surgical history. You will also have an opportunity to ask our imaging staff any questions that you may have about the procedure.

If you suffer from claustrophobia, or have a fear of enclosed spaces, it is very important that you let your physician know before you arrive for your Nuclear Imaging procedure. There are many options available to help you feel more comfortable, including mild sedation to help you relax during the procedure.

Bone Scan

Bone scans are used to detect areas of bone where there is an increase in bone regeneration. Common uses include the detection of fractures, bone infections (osteomyelitis), arthritis, bone tumors and bone cancer.

There is no preparation required for your bone scan. However, you should drink extra fluids and empty your bladder often between the injection and scan. You will also need to have a temporary IV set up.

Your scan can take anywhere from 3 to 4 hours, depending on the area to be studied.

Gastric Emptying Study

Gastric emptying studies are used to show movement of solids and/or liquids from your stomach into your small intestine.

Preparation can vary but may include:

  • No eating or drinking for 6 hours before the study
  • No caffeine for 6 hours before the study
  • No smoking the morning of the test or during imaging
  • You may need to stop taking certain stomach and narcotic medications 2 days before the study

You will be asked to ingest a small amount of food tagged with radioactive material, such as:

  • 2 scrambled eggs and 2 oz. of water
  • Eggs, toast with strawberry jam and 2 oz. of water

NOTE: Ensure can be substituted if you are allergic to eggs.

The study typically lasts 4-5 hours.


HIDA (hepatobiliary iminodiacetic acid) scans are used to show the function of the gallbladder. Preparation usually includes:

  • Having an ultrasound within 6 months of the scan
  • No eating or drinking for 6 hours before the scan
  • No narcotics for 12 hours before the scan
  • Placing a temporary intravenous line, or IV set up

The scan typically takes anywhere from 90 minutes to 4 hours.

Lung Ventilation/Perfusion (VQ) Scan

VQ scans are only performed at the hospital and are used to detect blood clots in the lungs, a condition called pulmonary embolism.

Preparation usually includes:

  • Having a chest X-ray within 24 hours of the VQ scan
  • Placing a temporary IV set up.

You must be able to lie flat during the scan, which takes about 45 minutes.

Renal Scan

Renal scans are used to evaluate kidney function, trauma, transplants, and vascular hypertension or obstruction.

Preparation usually includes:

  • Having IV access and/or a Foley catheter
  • Not taking certain medications, including ACE inhibitors and diuretics, for 48 hours before your scan
  • Drinking extra fluids

The scan takes between 20 minutes and 2 hours.

Stress Test (Myocardial Perfusion Scan)

Stress tests are only performed at the hospital and are used to evaluate the blood flow and function of the heart muscle.

  • Your doctor will provide specific instructions prior to your test but they may include not eating, drinking or taking certain medications several hours prior to your test.
  • The scan typically takes 2-3 hours.

Thyroid Uptake And Scan

Thyroid uptakes and scans are used to examine the size, shape, location and function of the thyroid gland.

Preparation can vary but may include:

  • No eating or drinking for 4 hours before your scan
  • No thyroid medications for 3 days to 4 weeks before your scan, depending on the medication
  • No multivitamins for 2 weeks before your scan
  • No IV contrast dye for 12 weeks before your scan
  • No amiodarone for 3-6 months before your scan
  • You may have to swallow a capsule
  • You may have a temporary IV set up

The uptake and scan usually takes more than 24 hours from start to finish.

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