Nuclear Medicine

What is Nuclear Medicine?

Nuclear medicine involves the use of small amounts of radioactive materials (or tracers) to help diagnose and treat a variety of diseases. Nuclear medicine differs from an x-ray, ultrasound or other imaging test in that it determines the cause of the medical problem based on the function of the organ, tissue or bone rather than the structural appearance.

Once the tracer localizes in a specific body organ systems, it gives off energy as gamma rays. The gamma camera detects these rays and works with a computer to produce images and measurements of organs and tissues.

What to Expect During a Nuclear Medicine Study

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.

  • You will be given a small dose of radioactive material, usually intravenously but sometimes orally, that localizes in the specific areas of the body being tested. The length of time it takes the tracer to travel through the body varies depending on the type of scan. It may take several seconds to several days for the substance to accumulate in the organ under study.
  • When it is time for the imaging to begin, the camera or scanner will take a series of images. The camera may rotate around you or it may stay in one position and you will be asked to change positions between images.
  • In order to capture the best quality pictures you will need to remain still for brief periods of time and in some cases, the camera may move very close to your body. Please let us know if you are feeling claustrophobic.
  • After the procedure, a physician who specializes in nuclear medicine the images and sends a report to your referring physician.

Preparing for a Nuclear Medicine Study

  • You may be asked to wear a gown during the exam or you may be allowed to wear your own clothing.
  • Women should always inform their physician or technologist if there is any possibility that they are pregnant or if they are breastfeeding.
  • Be prepared to inform the physician and technologist performing your exam of any medications you are taking, including vitamins and supplements. Also share if you have any allergies, recent illnesses or other medical conditions.
  • Please leave all jewelry and other metallic accessories at home if possible as they may interfere with the procedure.
  • You will receive specific instructions regarding the type of scan you are undergoing.
  • In some instances, certain medications or procedures may interfere with the examination ordered.