Nuclear medicine is a subspecialty within the field of radiology. It comprises diagnostic examinations that result in images of body anatomy and function. The images are developed based on the detection of energy emitted from a radioactive substance given to the patient, either intravenously or by mouth. Generally, radiation to the patient is similar to that resulting from standard x-ray examinations.
Nuclear medicine images can assist the physician in diagnosing diseases. Tumors, infection and other disorders can be detected by evaluating organ function. Specifically, nuclear medicine can be used to:
- Analyze kidney function
- Image blood flow and function of the heart
- Scan lungs for respiratory and blood-flow problems
- Identify blockage of the gallbladder
- Evaluate bones for fracture, infection, arthritis or tumor
- Determine the presence or spread of cancer
- Identify bleeding into the bowel
- Locate the presence of infection
- Measure thyroid function to detect an overactive or underactive thyroid
Patient Information for Nuclear Medicine Exams
Usually, no special preparation is needed for a nuclear medicine examination. However, if the procedure involves evaluation of the stomach, you may have to skip the meal immediately before the test. If the procedure involves evaluation of the kidneys, you may need to drink plenty of water before the test. Some minor discomfort during a nuclear medicine procedure may arise from the intravenous injection, usually done with a small needle. With some special studies, a catheter may be placed into the bladder, which may cause temporary discomfort. Lying still on the examining table may be uncomfortable for some patients.
Most of the radioactivity passes out of your body in urine or stool. The rest simply disappears through natural loss of radioactivity over time. As with other imaging procedures, if you are pregnant, think you may be pregnant, or are breast feeding, inform your doctor before the test begins.
Some Nuclear Medicine procedures will require more than one visit in the same day or will require more time to acquire images when compared to other imaging procedures like a CT scan or an X-Ray. Be sure to budget extra time and talk with your doctor about the unique time requirements for your exam.
For the most up to date information, visit www.radiologyinfo.org, a website dedicated to radiology information from the patient perspective.