Nuclear medicine can detect diseases such as heart disease, arthritis, and cancer

Nuclear MedicineFrequently Asked Questions

What is nuclear medicine?
How does nuclear medicine work?
What kind of equipment is used for nuclear medicine studies?
Is there any preparation for a nuclear study?
What can I expect during my nuclear medicine study?
Is nuclear medicine safe?
Where can I get my nuclear study?

nuclear medicneWhat is nuclear medicine?
Nuclear medicine uses small amounts of short-lived radioactive material to diagnose or treat diseases and to give information on how tissues and organs work. Nuclear medicine can detect diseases such as heart disease, arthritis, and cancer. Areas of the body most often studied include the brain, thyroid gland, heart, lungs, kidneys, gallbladder, liver, and bones.
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How does nuclear medicine work?
Before having a nuclear medicine procedure performed, patients are given a radioactive material called an isotope. Isotopes can be injected, inhaled, or swallowed in liquid or capsule form. Once the isotope is inside the body, it travels to the target organs or tissues and gives off gamma rays. Images are then taken of the body with special equipment that can detect the gamma rays. These images are interpreted by a radiologist with special training in nuclear medicine.
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What kind of equipment is used for nuclear medicine studies?
Various types of equipment are used for nuclear medicine studies depending on the procedure. At Diagnostic Imaging Associates, we use probes, stationary gamma cameras, and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) cameras.

Nuclear medicine probes look like long metal tubes. They can take images of the body by being waved over the patient. Nuclear medicine probes are not inserted into the body and usually do not come in direct contact with the skin.

Stationary gamma cameras are attached to a tall unit and positioned very close to the area being studied.

SPECT cameras can rotate around the patient to take the images.
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Is there any preparation for a nuclear study?
Most nuclear studies do require preparation. In these cases, someone from our Omega Nuclear office will call you to go over these requirements before your appointment.
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What can I expect during my nuclear medicine study?

Brain Scan
Brain scans are performed on patients who have seizures, severe headaches, or who have suffered a stroke. Before your brain scan, you will be asked if you are allergic to iodine. You may be given a blocking agent to make sure that other organs do not absorb the isotope. Next, a registered nuclear medicine technologist will administer an isotope injection and then position you for scanning. For about three minutes, you will be asked to stay completely still while the camera scans your brain. After this scan is complete, another scan will be performed up to two hours later. This scan will take a half an hour.

Thyroid Scan
Thyroid scans typically take two days. In the weeks before the study, you may not be allowed to eat certain foods or take certain medications. The night before the thyroid scan, you will be asked to fast and avoid drinking water. On the first day of the study, you will swallow the isotope in liquid or capsule form and be asked to fast for a few hours.

The second day of the procedure usually has two parts. First, your thyroid will be scanned using the probe, which will detect how much of the isotope has been absorbed by the thyroid gland. Second, your thyroid will be scanned with the gamma camera to assess its condition and ability to function. The two parts of the procedure will last a total of an hour.

Some patients only need to be scanned with either the probe or the gamma camera. These patients may have their procedure performed on the same day they receive the isotope.

Cardiac Scan
Cardiac scans are performed to study various aspects of how the heart functions. They can show damage, blood flow, and the heart’s general condition. The most common cardiac scan is called a stress test. Before a stress test, you may be asked to avoid food and water. During the study, the heart is first scanned at a resting rate with the SPECT camera. Next, the heart is scanned while you are walking or running on a treadmill. This shows how the heart responds and functions while under physical stress.

Lung Scan
A lung scan shows how blood flows through the lungs or how the lungs absorb oxygen. If you are having a lung scan to assess blood flow through the lungs, you will receive an isotope injection the day of your study. Then your lungs will be scanned using the gamma camera. This study will take approximately a half an hour.

Scans studying the supply of oxygen to the lungs do not require preparation. Before you are scanned by the gamma camera, the technologist will instruct you on how to breathe. After the technologist positions you in front of the camera, a mask will be placed over your face. The mask will release a tasteless isotope which you will inhale. In just a few minutes, the gamma camera will record pictures of the lungs and how the isotope is distributed inside them.

Kidney Scan
Nuclear studies of the kidney are ideal for visualizing tumors, cysts, blockages, and other conditions. To control the absorption of the isotope, you may be given a blocking agent. You will then be asked to empty your bladder and drink several glasses of water. During the kidney scan, the isotope will be administered intravenously and you will be positioned in front of the gamma camera. A kidney scan typically takes from a half hour to an hour.

Gallbladder Scan
A gallbladder scan is used to detect the presence of gallstones—a collection of salts and other organic material. Before your gallbladder scan, you will be asked to fast for four hours. Next, the technologist will inject an isotope and you will be positioned under the gamma camera. Images of the gallbladder will be taken over a one- to four-hour period.

Liver Scan
A nuclear medicine study of the liver reveals certain conditions such as cirrhosis or cysts, or assesses its general ability to function. During your scan, an isotope will be injected by the technologist, who will position you under the gamma or SPECT camera. Pictures of the liver will be taken for about a half an hour.

Bone Scan
A bone scan requires no fasting and is used to detect conditions of the bones, including tumors and arthritis. One to three hours before your bone scan, you will receive an isotope by intravenous injection. Leading up to the study, you may be instructed to drink several glasses of water and to empty your bladder. This will eliminate any of the isotope not absorbed by the bones. Bone scans generally take up to an hour.

After Your Study
For all studies involving administration of an isotope, it is best to drink a lot of water afterwards to flush the isotope out of the body. After your nuclear medicine study, a radiologist with special training in nuclear medicine will interpret the results of your scan. These results will be sent to your referring physician who will discuss the results with you.

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Is nuclear medicine safe?
Yes. A nuclear medicine study carries the same risk as a standard x-ray procedure. Although having radioactive isotopes injected into the body may sound scary, these isotopes only emit gamma rays for a few hours and typically are passed through the body within 24 hours. None of the nuclear medicine equipment gives off radiation.
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Where can I get my nuclear study?
Diagnostic Imaging Associates’ Omega Nuclear office provides a whole range of nuclear medicine procedures. Omega Nuclear is conveniently located in the Omega Professional Center across from Christiana Hospital on Route 4. To schedule an appointment, please call (302) 368-8150.

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