Mercy Regional Health Center
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Nuclear Medicine

What is nuclear medicine?
How does nuclear medicine imaging work?
What happens during the exam?
How do I prepare for the procedure?
What are the risks?
Will I be able to feel the scan?
How long does the scan take?

What are some common uses for nuclear medicine?
 
 
What is nuclear medicine?
Nuclear medicine is used to create medical images and administer treatment using small amounts of radioactive substance.

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How does nuclear medicine imaging work?
There are many types of nuclear medicine procedures for imaging. They vary by the type of tracer — or radioactive substance — used, and by the area to be imaged.
 
Your body absorbs the tracer at different levels, depending on the activity of the cells in that area. A special gamma camera records these levels, and a computer interprets them into an image. A doctor may be able to diagnose certain diseases or injuries in the body by looking at the way your body absorbs the tracer.
 
All nuclear medicine procedures involve three basic steps:
 
1. Administering the tracer
2. Obtaining the images
3. Interpreting the images

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What happens during the exam?
What happens will vary a bit by the type of exam. Generally, you will be administered the tracer through an IV injection in the arm, swallowing or inhalation to the lungs.
 
The next step is imaging. In some exams, you will immediately start having images taken; in some you will wait two to three hours; and in others you may be asked to wait up to two to three days before being imaged.
 
You will be asked to lie on a table that will be placed either under or over the gamma camera. You will usually be very close to the camera so it can pick up the tracer signal easily. Extra pictures will not expose you to more radiation.
 
You may breathe normally during the exam, but you may be instructed to remain as still as possible. Movement during certain tests could result in blurred images that are difficult to interpret.

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How to I prepare for the procedure?
Please arrive at least 20 minutes before your appointment to be checked in for your exam. You may be asked to wear a hospital gown.
 
Preparation varies by type of exam. For certain types of heart or cardiac imaging, you may be asked to exercise on a treadmill or, if you cannot exercise, you may be asked to take a special drug. Other scans may require you to have food or liquid intake restrictions. Make sure you understand from your doctor all the preparations you need to take.

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What are the risks?
The amount of radiation in the tracer is no more than that of a routine x-ray procedure. Nuclear medicine exams are usually quite safe for most adults and children. They are generally not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. The tracer decays (loses radioactivity) and is flushed away through normal body functions.

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Will I be able to feel the scan?
No, you will not feel the scan. You may have some minor discomfort from getting an injection (if needed), but nuclear scans are painless.

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How long does the scan take?
The timing will depend on the study being done. At your appointment, ask how long you should expect the exam to take. You may need to have separate visits to receive the tracer and to have the images taken.

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What are some common uses for nuclear medicine?
Nuclear medicine can detect sources of bone pain such as bone breaks, fractures or tumors in a test called a bone scan. Nuclear medicine is also used to diagnose heart disease — looking for abnormalities in blood flow to the heart — and damage to the heart. Other areas scanned include kidney, thyroid, gallbladder and lungs.

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