January 21, 2019  
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What is nuclear medicine?

Nuclear medicine is a specialized area of radiology that uses very small amounts of radioactive materials, or radiopharmaceuticals, to examine organ function and structure. Nuclear medicine imaging is a combination of many different disciplines, including chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer technology, and medicine. This branch of radiology is often used to help diagnose and treat abnormalities very early in the progression of a disease, such as thyroid cancer.

Since x-rays pass through soft tissue, such as intestines, muscles, and blood vessels, contrast agents are used in nuclear imaging. Nuclear imaging examines organ function and structure, whereas diagnostic radiology is based on anatomy.

Scans are used to diagnose many medical conditions and diseases. Some of the more common tests include the following:

  • renal scans - used to examine the kidneys and to detect any abnormalities, such as tumors or obstruction of the renal blood flow.
  • thyroid scans - used to evaluate thyroid function.
  • bone scans - used to evaluate any degenerative and/or arthritic changes in the joints, to detect bone diseases and tumors, and/or to determine the cause of bone pain or inflammation.
  • gallium scans - used to diagnose active infectious and/or inflammatory diseases, tumors, and abscesses.
  • heart scans - used to identify abnormal blood flow to the heart, to determine the extent of the damage of the heart muscle after a heart attack, and/or to measure heart function.
How are nuclear medicine scans done?

As stated above, nuclear medicine scans may be performed on many organs and tissues of the body. Each type of scan employs certain technology, radiopharmaceuticals, and procedures.

A nuclear medicine scan consists of three phases: tracer (radiopharmaceutical) administration, taking images, and image interpretation. The amount of time between administration of the tracer and the taking of the images may range from a few moments to a few days, depending on the body tissue being examined and the tracer being used. The time required to obtain the images may also vary from minutes to hours.

These procedures are performed at the UGH Imaging location on 1960 only and appointments are only available on Fridays.

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