Nuclear medicine imaging tests are noninvasive procedures that help your doctor diagnose and evaluate medical conditions. In these tests, you receive a very small amount of a safe radioactive material (radiopharmaceuticals) designed to go to a specific place in your body. Then, a special camera—a gamma camera—tracks the path of the material, called a radiotracer, to show how your organs and tissues work.
Nuclear exams can look at bones, lungs, thyroid, heart, GI, kidney, gallbladder, lymph nodes, infections and much more.
Nuclear medicine techniques can also be used to treat some conditions, including overactive thyroid gland and certain types of cancer.
Nuclear medicine procedures need to be scheduled in advance as they require a specific dose of radiopharmaceutical that is specific to the patient and the procedure being performed. These radiopharmaceuticals only last a short period. You’ll receive specific instructions on how to prepare for your procedure. Follow them carefully to help your doctor get the best, most accurate images.
Before your scan, you’ll be asked to receive an injection, swallow or inhale a radiotracer. Depending on your specific test, you may need to wait a few minutes or a few days for the tracer to travel through your body.
When it’s time to take the images, you’ll be positioned on an examination table and a scanner will take a series of images. Some machines rotate around you; others may require you change positions between images. You’ll need to stay very still while pictures are being taken to avoid blurry images. Some exams take as little as a half-hour; others are conducted over several days.