Nuclear medicine



Nuclear medicine is used to find the cause of medical problems, and in some cases to heal them. It’s especially helpful because it can often find disease in its earliest stages.

Nuclear medicine tests are noninvasive. They help doctors learn a lot without surgery or expensive tests. Tests are usually painless. Sometimes you need to get an injection (a shot) or an IV (needle in your hand or arm).

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Frequently asked questions

  • A nuclear scan uses a tiny amount of radiation to make images of the inside of the body. Special cameras "read" the radiation and send the information to computers. The computers create very precise pictures of the area of the body being imaged.

    When nuclear medicine is used to care for a medical problem, the radiation goes right where it’s needed. The amount of radiation is safe. It's about the same amount as what you'd get with a typical X-ray.

  • You may need to wear a gown during the exam. In some cases, you can wear your own clothing.

    Be sure to tell your doctor or the technologist if:
    • You’re taking any medicines, vitamins or herbal supplements
    • You have any allergies
    • You've been sick recently or have any long-term medical problems

    If you're a woman, let them know if you're pregnant (or could be pregnant) or are breastfeeding.

    Leave at home any jewelry or metal you wear, if possible. (Or, take it off before the exam.) Metal can change the image of the scan. We'll let you know if you need to do anything special for the scan you're going to have.

    You may need to swallow or breathe in medicine before your exam. In some cases, you might get a shot of medicine.

    The medicine will carry a tiny amount of radiation to the part of the body being scanned. This can take several seconds to several days. So, the imaging could be done right away, a few hours later, or even several days after you get the medicine.

  • If you’re claustrophobic (afraid of being in small spaces), please tell the technologist before your exam begins.

    When it's time for the imaging to begin, the scanner will take several pictures. It may rotate around you. Or it may stay in one place and you'll be asked to move between images.

    You'll need to stay still for a short time while the camera is taking pictures. The camera may move very close to your body. This will help us get the best quality images.

    The technologist may pass a small hand-held device over the area of the body being studied. This is done to measure the amount of radiation in your body. For some tests, we measure the radiation levels in your blood, urine or breath.

    How long the test takes will depend on the type of test. Scanning time can take 20 minutes to several hours, and may be done over several days.

    When the exam is done, the technologist may ask you to wait while he or she the checks the images. Sometimes they'll need to take more. Don't worry; this doesn't mean there's something wrong. Just like in photography, not every image is perfect on the first try.  

  • If you had an IV for the exam, it will be removed. (It might be left in if you need it for another exam later in the day.)

    The technologist or your doctor will let you know if you need to do anything special after the exam. They may ask you to drink lots of water. This can help your body get rid of the radioactive medicine. (The radiation in the medicine will also decay or go away on its own.)