Nuclear Imaging is a subspecialty of radiology where very small amount of radioactive material is used to diagnose and treat diseases in the body. A small amount of a radioactive traced is either injected or swallowed. The radioactive material has no side effects for the patient.
In other forms of radiology such as X-ray or CT radiation comes out of the scanner to take the picture. This process is very good for viewing the anatomy and structure of the body. In Nuclear Medicine the radiation is put into the body, then travels out of the body and is detected or picked up by the camera. This process is very good for visualizing physiology and function.
You should be aware that some Nuclear Medicine Scans are conducted over a period of hours, even days. Because there is no radiation emitted from the camera it is possible to scan patients for long periods of time without danger to the patient. Also the radioactive tracer is expensive and ordered to each patient’s individual specifications. Because of this we must have notice of cancellation of an exam at least 24 hours prior to the appointment.
You should always inform your Technologist of any medication, allergies, or recent sickness before the scan begins. It is also important to let them know if you are breastfeeding, pregnant or of any possibility that you may be pregnant. In some cases certain tests, such as an ultrasound must have been taken before the exam is started.
How to Prepare for a Nuclear Medicine Exam
Most Nuclear Medicine exams require no prep, except drinking water to remain hydrated. However, in some cases you may be asked to prepare for the exam by avoiding food and drink for several hours prior. If you receive an injection of the radiotracer you will receive the injection usually in the arm. If you swallow the radioactive trace it usually has no taste. In most cases there is a wait time between the injection or swallow before the scan can begin.
The Technologist will step out of the room to acquire the images but will be able to see and hear you. The Nuclear medicine scanner is very quiet. There is no pain. It is important that you lie very still in one position while the images are being taken.
When you have completed the scan the technician will help you up from the table. You may return to your normal activities unless directed not to do so by your physician.
For most Nuclear Medicine studies the radiotracer will naturally dissipate and leave your body through urine within the first 24 hours after the exam.
Certain Nuclear Medicine exams require several appointments over a 3 to 4 day period of time. Please consult your Technologist for additional instructions.
Your physician will receive a report from the radiologist on the results of the scan.