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Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine is a medical specialty dedicated to the diagnosis, management, treatment, and prevention of serious diseases. Nuclear medicine is used to look at the function of an organ, not just shape or size.

Your appointment
Below is the preparation needed and approximate length of various exams. Patients who are pregnant or breastfeeding should inform their doctor and the technologist prior to the test.
 
  • Biliary (HIDA) Scan - Nothing to eat or drink for four hours. Procedure takes 2 hours.
  • Bone Scan - No preparation needed. Procedure takes 10 minutes for injection, 2-3 hour wait, pictures take 1 hour.
  • Cardiac Perfusion - Stop taking beta blockers 48 hours before your appointment, if instructed by your doctor. Stop taking Theophylline products four days before your appointment. Hold diabetic medications the morning of the procedure. Eat a LIGHT breakfast the day of the test and have no caffeine for two days (i.e., tea, coffee or chocolate) prior to the test. The test requires two pictures of your heart; one at rest and one after stress. The stress test may either be a on a treadmill or with a medication as determined by your doctor. Procedure takes 4-6 hours.
  • Gallium - No preparation. This exam takes place over the course of two or three days. You will receive an injection on the first day and imaging on the second or third day. Procedure takes 30 minutes to 2 hours.
  • Liver/Spleen - No preparation. Pictures take 45 minutes.
  • Liver with Tagged Red Cells - No preparation. Pictures are taken one hour after an injection and repeat pictures are taken at three hours after injection. Procedure takes 4 - 4 ½ hours.
  • Lung Scan (VQ scan) - No preparation. You will need a chest x-ray done within 24 hours. Procedure takes 1 hour.
  • MUGA (Multiple Gated Acquisition) Scan - No preparation. Procedure takes 1 hour. 
  • Renal Scan - Drink 3-4 glasses of fluid prior to arrival and empty bladder as needed. Pictures take approximately 1 - 1½ hours (will depend if Lasix, a diuretic is required).
  • Thyroid Uptake and /or Scan - No thyroid medication can be taken for two weeks prior to the exam. Also, there must not have been any IVP or CT contrast for two months, Kelp or Vitamins with Iodine for two weeks. The thyroid uptake requires 15 minutes the first day for a pill.

You asked – we answered 

Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions we receive from patients, families and caregivers in our community about Nuclear Medicine. 
  • Are nuclear medicine tests safe?
    Yes, they are very safe. The pharmaceutical (tracer) used, and radiation dose given are carefully chosen to ensure you receive the minimum radiation exposure, while ensuring the accuracy of the test. The amount of radiation in a nuclear medicine test is about the same as you would receive from a diagnostic X-ray. The radiopharmaceuticals administered are not dyes and do not cause reactions the way X-ray contrasts may.
  • Are there any side effects?
    Nuclear medicine tests are designed to monitor normal processes in the body. Tracers are made to act as naturally as possible so there is a very small chance of side effects. Tests that involve the use of other non-radioactive drugs may have a small possibility of side effects, and those will be explained to you by the technologist performing your test. The radiation doses administered are carefully monitored for safety and pose no more risk than diagnostic X-ray tests. These tests do not discolour your urine, make you tired, affect your ability to drive, or make you glow in the dark.
  • Will it hurt?
    Nuclear medicine procedures are painless and are very rarely associated with discomfort or side effects. Some tests involve ingesting food or drink containing a tracer, inhaling a tracer, or require an intravenous injection of the tracer for imaging. The only thing that may hurt is if the tracer is injected into a vein, and this is no worse than having your blood taken. Almost all tests involve lying on a bed for pictures.
  • What is a radiopharmaceutical or tracer?
    A radiopharmaceutical or tracer is a specially designed drug that is bound to a radioactive material. Tracers are designed to act like natural products in the body allowing nuclear medicine tests to look at how the body is working. Tracers are designed to look at very specific organ functions.
    The radiopharmaceuticals are given by injection, eating, or breathing. The radioactive part of the radiopharmaceutical is very small and emits radiation, known as gamma rays, which are detected by a gamma camera. It can take anywhere from several seconds to several days for the radiotracer to travel through your body and accumulate in the organ to be studied. As a result, imaging may be done immediately, a few hours later, or even several days after you have received the radioactive material. 

    The imaging portion of nuclear medicine involves having the patient lie down on a bed and the gamma camera being place a few inches over the patient’s body. Pictures are taken over the next few minutes. The total time for a nuclear medicine procedure depends on the procedure being done. 

    The radiopharmaceutical is most often eliminated through your urine, so you are encouraged to drink plenty of fluids following the injection. 

    Patients who are pregnant or breastfeeding should inform their doctor and the technologist prior to the test.
  • Who performs a nuclear medicine test?
    A Nuclear Medicine Technologist performs the nuclear medicine test. They are a specially trained health care professional who has direct experience in the theory and practice of nuclear medicine. 
  • How long does the procedure take?
    The amount of time depends on the type of procedure you are having.
  • What happens after the test?
    Once the test is completed you are free to resume your normal activities. If you have any questions about taking your medications you should consult your doctor.
  • How long does it take for my doctor to get the results?
    Once the test is completed it is sent to our nuclear medicine doctors for reporting.