Nuclear Medicine

What is Nuclear Medicine?

Nuclear Medicine describes those diagnostic procedures that utilize traces of radioactive materials as "tracers" that help to identify various conditions.

How Should I Prepare?

In most cases, no patient preparation is necessary.

What Can I Expect?

The "tracer" will be administered either intravenously or orally, with a waiting time from 10 minutes to four hours prior to the exam. The patient will experience no side effects from the tracer, and no radiation safety precautions are needed.

Following the exam, no restrictions on driving or work are required.

What Kinds of Testing are Available?

  • Bone Scan:
    Used for the diagnosis of metastatic disease, fractures, or other bone diseases. A 2-4 hour wait between tracer administration and exam start is required; imaging takes from 30 to 45 minutes. Additional x-rays may be needed for comparison.
  • Gastric Emptying Scan:
    To determine emptying time and evaluate gastroparesis. Patients are asked not to eat or drink for six hours prior to the scan. On arrival, they will be asked to eat egg whites containing the tracer and toast; the scan is conducted continuously for one hour. 
  • Hepatobiliary Scan:
    For the diagnosis of cholecystitis or biliary tract obstruction. After tracer injection, images are taken for one hour, and delayed images may be taken up to four hours. Patients may not eat or drink for 6 hours prior to the exam, and may be asked to eat specific foods.
  • Liver-Spleen Scan:
    For diagnosis of cirrhosis or other liver function diseases. Exam is begun 15 minutes after tracer administration, and lasts about 30 minutes.
  • Lung Ventilation and Perfusion Scan:
    To diagnose pulmonary embolism or to assess air or blood flow. The tracer is administered through a breathing system or injection depending on the test. A chest x-ray may be done for comparison. The procedure takes about an hour.
  • Lymphoscintigraphy:
    To evaluate lymph fluid flow and identify sentinel nodes prior to surgery. Physicians will give pre-operative instructions.
  • MUGA Scan:
    To determine how efficiently the heart is working. The exam requires about one hour, including drawing and re-injection of blood.
  • Parathyroid Scan:
    To evaluate parathyroid adenoma, hyperparathyroidism or hypoparathyroidism. After tracer is injected, a 10-minute wait and 10-minute scan are conducted. Patient then returns in two hours and scan is repeated.
  • Renal Scan:
    To diagnose urinary tract obstruction, evaluate renal artery stenosis, or renal function. Patietns drink 16 oz. of water prior to the scan, then are injected with tracer, and scanned for approximately 30 minutes. In some cases, extra procedures, such as injection of a diuretic or return for a second scan are needed. For some scans, the patient should not take ACE inhibiting medication for 48 hours and all blood pressure medication for 24 hours prior to the scan.
  • Thyroid Uptake and Scan:
    To diagnose hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, or thyroid nodules or enlargement. Tracer is administered orally. Four hours later the first scan, lasting about 45 minutes, is performed. The patient returns 24 hours later and is scanned a second time for 15 minutes. Patient must not eat or drink for six hours prior to the scan, and must be off all thyroid medication for 10 days prior. No intravenous contrast should have been administered to the patient for six weeks prior to the exam.