Nuclear Medicine FAQ

What are some common uses of Nuclear Medicine procedures?

  • Image blood flow and function of the heart
  • Analyze kidney function
  • Scan the lungs to detect respiratory and blood-flow problems
  • Identify blockage of gallbladder
  • Evaluate bones for fracture, infection, arthritis or tumors
  • Determine the presence or spread of cancer
  • Locate infection
  • Measure thyroid function

How should I prepare for the procedure?

No special preparation is usually needed for a nuclear medicine examination. However, if the procedure involves evaluation of the heart or abdomen, you may need to skip a meal immediately before your test. If the procedure involves evaluation of the kidneys, you may be asked to drink plenty of water before the exam.

What happens before the exam?

The patient is given a radioactive medication, called a radiopharmaceutical agent. It may be given as a pill for the patient to swallow or as an intravenous solution administered into a vein in the patient’s arm. Depending on the type of exam being performed, the imaging may be done immediately after the radiopharmaceutical is given, a few hours later, or even several days afterward. Exam times vary, but they generally range from 20 to 45 minutes. The radiopharmaceutical agent is safe, and it will be eliminated from the body when the patient urinates.

What happens during the exam?

During most nuclear medicine examinations, the patient is positioned on a table. It is important for the patient to remain as still as possible during the exam. The radiopharmaceutical agent collects in the area of the body to be examined and gives off energy as gamma rays. A large camera then collects the rays, and converts the rays into light. With the help of a computer, the camera produces images.

What happens after the exam?

A physician specially trained in nuclear medicine will interpret the images and forward the report to the ordering physician.