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Nuclear Medicine

What is nuclear medicine?
Nuclear medicine is a type of imaging that uses small amounts of radioactive material to diagnose or treat a variety of diseases, including many types of cancers, heart disease, and other conditions.

What are some common reasons why nuclear medicine is used?
Nuclear medicine is used to diagnose or treat a variety of conditions. Some nuclear medicine scans include:

  • Blood volume study
    • This study measures the total volume of blood in your body.
    • After inserting an IV into your arm, a sample of blood is taken and labeled with a small amount of radioactive tracer.
    • The radioactive blood sample is then re-injected into the IV in your arm.
    • Additional blood samples are taken at intervals.
    • The total volume of blood in your body is measured.
  • Radioiodine (I-131) therapy
    • This therapy is used as treatment for an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism).
    • Radioactive iodine (I-131) is created from iodine to emit radiation for medical use.
    • You swallow a small dose of radioactive iodine in a capsule or liquid form.
    • The radioactive iodine is absorbed into your bloodstream in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract and then into your thyroid gland, where the radioactive iodine begins to destroy the thyroid gland’s cells.
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) bleed study
    • This study uses a radioactive tracer to detect possible internal bleeding.
    • After inserting an IV into your arm, a sample of blood is taken and labeled with a small amount of radioactive tracer.
    • While you lie on an imaging table, the radioactive blood sample is re-injected into the IV in your arm.
    • Pictures of your abdomen are taken.
  • Bone scan
    • This scan can help identify new areas of bone growth or breakdown, evaluate the damage to your bones, and monitor bone conditions.
    • A radioactive tracer is introduced into your body using an IV in your arm.
    • The tracer travels through your bloodstream and into your bones.
    • Pictures are taken of the tracer in your bone(s).
    • The amount of tracer that is absorbed by your bone(s) is measured.
  • Cardiac blood pool scan
    • This scan can help show how well your heart is pumping blood to the rest of your body, determine the size of your heart chambers, and detect any abnormalities in the ventricle walls or movement of the blood between your heart chambers
    • A radioactive tracer is injected into a vein using an IV.
    • The gamma camera detects the radioactive tracer as it travels through your heart and lungs.
  • Gallbladder scan
    • This scan can help evaluate your gallbladder function and detect blockages in your bile ducts.
    • A radioactive tracer is introduced into your body using an IV in your arm.
    • Your liver removes the tracer from your bloodstream and adds it to the bile that flows through your bile ducts to your gallbladder.
    • Your gallbladder empties the tracer into your small intestine.
    • Pictures are taken of the tracer as it travels through your liver, bile ducts, gallbladder, and small intestine.
  • Gallium scan
    • This scan can help detect a source of infection, diagnose inflammatory conditions, detect certain types of cancer, and determine whether a cancer has spread to other areas of your body.
    • A radioactive tracer is introduced into your body using an IV in your arm.
    • The tracer travels through your bloodstream and into your bones, liver, intestine, and tissue where inflammation or an excess of white blood cells is present.
    • The amount of tracer that is absorbed by your bones, liver, intestine, and tissue where inflammation or an excess of white blood cells is present is examined.
  • Kidney scan
    • This scan evaluates the function of your kidneys and detects some types of cancers, narrowing or blockage of blood vessels, or infection.
    • A radioactive tracer is introduced into your body using an IV in your arm.
    • The tracer travels through your bloodstream into your kidneys.
    • Pictures are taken of the tracer in your kidneys.
    • The amount of tracer that is absorbed by your kidneys is measured.
  • Liver and spleen scan
    • This scan can help find cysts, abscesses, certain types of tumors, or problems with your liver function.
    • A radioactive tracer is introduced into your body using an IV in your arm.
    • The tracer travels through your bloodstream into your liver and spleen.
    • The pattern in which the tracer spreads through your liver and spleen is examined and the amount of tracer that is absorbed is measured.
  • Lung scan
    • This scan evaluates the flow of blood or air through your lungs and how well your lungs are working.
    • You inhale a radioactive tracer gas or mist into your lugs, or a radioactive tracer is introduced into your body using an IV in your arm.
    • The tracer illuminates areas of your lungs that aren’t receiving enough air, areas that retain too much air, or areas that aren’t receiving enough blood.
  • Myocardial stress test
    • This test determines if your heart is receiving adequate blood supply under stress and/or rest conditions.
    • You lie on the nuclear medicine table and first have the resting portion of the test.
    • You then go to the Cardiovascular Center (CVC) to walk on the treadmill while speed and incline are varied; if you cannot walk on the treadmill, you are given medication that will increase your heart rate.
    • When your heart rate reaches the predetermined level, a radioactive tracer is introduced into your body using an IV in your arm.
    • After the tracer has traveled to your heart, pictures are taken of your heart.
  • Salivary gland scan
    • This scan can help find the cause of dry mouth (xerostomia) or swelling of the salivary glands.
    • A radioactive tracer is introduced into your body using an IV in your arm.
    • The tracer moves through your bloodstream and into your salivary glands.
    • The amount of tracer that remains in your salivary glands is measured.
  • Thyroid uptake and scan
    • This scan can help evaluate the structure and function of your thyroid gland.
    • You swallow a small radioactive iodine capsule.
    • A nuclear medicine probe measures the uptake of the tracer and pictures are taken.

How are nuclear medicine scans performed?
You will be instructed about what to wear to your appointment, what to eat before the test, how the test will be performed, and how the test will feel.

Nuclear medicine scans use a special camera (gamma) to take pictures of tissues and organs after a radioactive tracer is introduced into your body, either orally or through an IV. The radioactive tracer is absorbed by your body’s tissues and organs and illuminates the activity and function of the organ or tissue being studied.

Different radioactive tracers are used for different types of tissue, such as bones, organs, glands, and blood vessels. Nuclear medicine may also be used to treat hyperthyroidism and early stages of cancer.

Wait Time
Please be aware that some nuclear medicine procedures require a wait time after the radioactive tracer is introduced into your body, either orally or through an IV. The wait time may be an hour or more. 

How do I schedule a nuclear medicine scan?
To schedule a nuclear medicine scan at Sacred Heart Hospital, please call One Call Scheduling at 610-776-5180.

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