Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine is a branch of medical imaging that uses small amounts of radioactive material to diagnose or treat a variety of diseases, including many types of cancers, heart disease and certain other abnormalities within the body.

Nuclear medicine or radionuclide imaging procedures are noninvasive and, with the exception of intravenous injections, are usually painless medical tests that help physicians diagnose medical conditions.

Depending on the type of nuclear medicine exam you are undergoing, the radiotracer is either injected into a vein, swallowed or inhaled as a gas and eventually accumulates in the organ or area of your body being examined, where it gives off energy in the form of gamma particles. This energy is detected by a device called a gamma camera. These devices work together with a computer to measure the amount of radiotracer absorbed by your body and to produce special pictures offering details on both the structure and function of organs and tissues.

Physicians use radionuclide imaging procedures to visualize the structure and function of an organ, tissue, bone or system of the body.

Nuclear medicine imaging scans are performed to:

  • analyze kidney function.
  • visualize heart blood flow and function (such as a myocardial perfusion scan).
  • scan lungs for respiratory and blood flow problems.
  • identify inflammation in the gallbladder.
  • evaluate bones for fractures, infection, arthritis and tumors.
  • determine the presence or spread of cancer in various parts of the body.
  • identify bleeding into the bowel.
  • locate the presence of infection.
  • measure thyroid function to detect an overactive or underactive thyroid.
  • investigate abnormalities in the brain, such as seizures, memory loss and abnormalities in blood flow.
  • localize the lymph nodes before surgery in patients with breast cancer or melanoma

Nuclear medicine imaging is usually performed on an outpatient basis, but is often performed on hospitalized patients as well. The length of time for nuclear medicine procedures varies greatly, depending on the type of exam. Actual scanning time for nuclear imaging exams can take from 20 minutes to one hour, and may be conducted over several days.
 

You will be positioned on an examination table. If necessary, a nurse or technologist will insert an intravenous (IV) line into a vein in your hand or arm.

Depending on the type of nuclear medicine exam you are undergoing, the dose of radiotracer is then injected intravenously, swallowed or inhaled as a gas.

It can take anywhere from several seconds to 24-plus hours for the radiotracer to travel through your body and accumulate in the organ or area being studied. As a result, imaging may be done immediately, a few hours later, or even a day after you have received the radioactive material.

When it is time for the imaging to begin, the gamma camera will take a series of images. The camera may rotate around you or it may stay in one position and you will be asked to change positions in between images. While the camera is taking pictures, you will need to remain still for brief periods of time. In some cases, the camera may move very close to your body. This is necessary to obtain the best quality images. If you are claustrophobic, you should inform the technologist before your exam begins.

If a probe is used, this small hand-held device will be passed over the area of the body being studied to measure levels of radioactivity. Other nuclear medicine tests measure radioactivity levels in blood, urine or breath.
 

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Radiology
218-894-8465
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