Unlike x-rays that produce a structural image of an organ, nuclear medicine scans produce an image of the organ's function. Images produce by nuclear medicine scans tell what part of an organ is working correctly, and what part is not.
In x-ray and CT exams, radiations come out of a machine and passes through the patient's body. In a nuclear medicine exam a radioactive material is introduce into the patient's body, usually by injection, and is then detected by a machine.
The amount of radioactive material introduce into the body is carefully measured to reflect the patient's age, weight and other variables, so it is very safe. The radioactive material is only inside the body for a very short time because it decays rapidly.
What will happen during the exam?
The radioactive material will be given through an injection in the arm or by swallowing a capsule. How the dose is given is based on the area of the body be examined. The dose of radiation is comparable to a routine x-ray and there are no side effects with the radioactive material given. The patient may be asked to lie or sit in front of the camera.
How do I get ready for a nuclear medicine test?
For many of the exams there are no special preparations required, however if preparations are necessary, they will be explained at the time of scheduling.
How long does the exam take?
Scans range in time from a few minutes to several hours. Some exams require a delay after the material is given before imaging is started; this is to allow the material to collect at the area of interest.