One of the most important advancements in diagnostic imaging is the development of the safe use of radioactive material to enhance many of our standard tests such as X-rays and CT scans. This science, called nuclear medicine, enables our doctors to use a small amount of radioactive material to more precisely see the size, shape and function of your organs to help with diagnosing diseases, tumors, infections and other types of disorders.
Radioactive material is safe to use and can be either ingested or injected into your body. The actual level of radiation you receive is very small – about the same as with X-rays or CT scans.
Find out what documents to bring
Preparing for your exam
Typically, no advance preparation is required for a nuclear medicine exam. However, some exams require that you do not have anything to eat or drink prior. Please check with the scheduling department or your doctor if you have questions. Generally speaking:
- If your stomach area is being evaluated, you may be asked to skip a meal before your test.
- If your kidneys are being evaluated, you may be asked to drink plenty of water before your test.
During the exam, you will lie on a scanning table. A specialized nuclear imaging camera is used to facilitate imaging specific parts of the body. A nearby computer console processes the information gathered from the examination.
For thyroid studies, it is important that you have discontinued thyroid medications and multivitamins and have not had a contrasted exam. Some medications should be discontinued for up to two weeks prior to an exam. Please check with your doctor if you have questions about discontinuing medications.
For your safety
Some nuclear medicine tests are not recommended for pregnant women or nursing mothers, in most instances. Please be sure to inform the technologist if you are pregnant or nursing.
Nuclear medicine procedures result in a small dose of radiation from the radiopharmaceutical. There are no known long-term adverse effects from such low-dose exams. Although it is extremely rare, you may experience an allergic reaction to the radiopharmaceutical.
What to expect during a nuclear medicine exam
When you arrive for your exam, the technologist will escort you to a room where you will be given a small dose of radioactive material. The dose may be administered by mouth or intravenously (IV), and will accumulate in the area of your body to be examined. This typically takes about 30 minutes.
Your exam may be performed immediately after the injection or you may be allowed to leave and return to the imaging center in one to three hours. When you return, the technologist will escort you to the examination room to begin the procedure, which lasts from 45 minutes to one hour.
Our technologist will prepare and guide you by explaining the procedure and positioning you to ensure the highest quality images are obtained. You will need to remain as still as possible while the images are obtained.
Some nuclear medicine exams will require that you spend up to three or four hours in the facility. With others, you may be able to leave the facility and return. You can bring books or music to listen to while you wait.
When your exam is complete, you can leave and resume regular activities.
A radiologist will review your exam images and report the findings to your doctor within 24 hours. Your doctor will then discuss the findings and next steps with you.