Nuclear Medicine

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Noninvasive procedures to help diagnose and evaluate medical conditions.

The "inside out" X-Ray

Nuclear medicine procedure is sometimes described as an "inside-out" x-ray because it records radiation emitting from the patient's body rather than radiation that is directed through the patient's body. Nuclear medicine procedures use small amounts of radioactive materials, called radiopharmaceuticals, to create images of anatomy.

Nuclear medicine is unique because it documents function as well as structure. For example, nuclear medicine allows physicians to see how a kidney is functioning, not just what it looks like. Most other diagnostic imaging tests, in comparison, reveal only structure. Nuclear medicine procedures are performed to assess the function of nearly every organ. Common nuclear medicine procedures include thyroid studies, brain scans, bone scans, lung scans, cardiac stress tests, and liver and gallbladder procedures.

Patient Preparation

Patient preparation varies according to the procedure. Before your examination, a nuclear medicine technologist will explain the procedure to you and answer any questions you might have. A nuclear medicine technologist is a skilled medical professional who has received specialized education in the areas of anatomy, radiation protection, patient care, radiation exposure, radiopharmaceuticals and nuclear medicine procedures.

Tell the technologist if you have any allergies and if you are undergoing radiation therapy, because these factors may require adjustments in how the examination is performed. Also, be sure to tell the technologist if you are pregnant or are breastfeeding. Nuclear medicine tests usually are not recommended for pregnant women.

During the Examination

For most nuclear medicine examinations, the patient is positioned on a scanning table underneath a scintillation or gamma camera. A radiopharmaceutical then is administered intravenously. It travels through the petient's bloodstream to a specific area where it selectively accumulates. The camera then detects and records the radioactive emissions from the patient's body.

For some nuclear medicine studies, imaging takes place immediately. for others, images are taken an hour, two hours, or even several days after administration of the radiopharmaceutical. In most cases, the patient is permitted to leave the center and return later for the imaging procedure. Most nuclear medicine procedures require several different images from different angles, and the technologist may ask you to change positions during the examination. You will need to lie still during each scan.

Bone scans can detect fractures, tumors and infections. Imaging may be performed immediately, although it usually is performed several hours after the radiopharmaceutical is injected. If your entire body needs to be scanned, the imaging portion of the procedure can last up to one hour. If you have trouble lying on your back for extended periods of time, be sure to let your physician know. Radiographs also may be taken to provide additional information.

Nuclear medicine uses radioactive tracers are injected into the bloodstream to look at both the physiology (function) and the anatomy of the body both in establishing diagnosis and deciding treatment.

Our board certified radiologists use nuclear medicine for imaging and detecting tumors, cancers, and broken or damaged bones. It also allows evaluation of gallbladder function and stomach emptying, and can evaluate as well as treat thyroid problems. The use of any specific test, or combination of tests, depends upon the patient's symptoms and the disease being diagnosed.

The amount of radioactive tracer injected is based on your age, weight and type of test. These tracers typically have lower radiation levels than a regular X-rays or CT scans, and are eliminated from the body in the urine and stool.