What is Nuclear Medicine?
Nuclear medicine imaging uses small amounts of radioactive materials called radiotracers that are typically injected into the bloodstream, inhaled or swallowed. The radiotracer travels through the area being examined and gives off energy in the form of gamma rays which are detected by a special camera and a computer to create images of the inside of your body. Nuclear medicine imaging provides unique information that often cannot be obtained using other imaging procedures and offers the potential to identify disease in its earliest stages.
What should I expect?
When you arrive, you should expect similar protocols for all of the nuclear medicine exams. For some procedures, you should not have anything to eat or drink after midnight, the day before the test. Make sure to inform your doctor if you have had any iodinated contrast in the past two months leading up to your scan.
When you arrive at appointment time, a nuclear medicine pharmaceutical will be administered, either through an IV or pill form. Often it can take a while for the pharmaceutical to travel through your system to the area being examined. You must wait a predetermined duration of time for the radiological pharmaceutical to take effect. It can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, so you may have time to go about your day while you wait. Upon readmission, you will be taken to begin scanning. This can last from fifteen minutes to a few hours. You may also have to return for a follow-up scan the next day.
For nuclear stress tests, you will be monitored by an EKG, and will walk on a treadmill to put stress on the heart. If you are not able to walk on a treadmill, a chemical injection will be administered to increase your heart rate. At some period during the test, a second nuclear pharmaceutical will be injected. After the stress test is complete, you will be asked to leave and have something to eat. Upon returning, the last images of the heart will be taken for approximately twenty minutes.
What can I do to prepare?
There are several procedures that fall under the realm of nuclear medicine. The time needed to prepare and complete each exam varies based on the nuclear pharmaceutical that is administered. The nuclear pharmaceuticals that are ordered are tailored specifically for each individual. It is very important that you arrive on time for the appointment, so that the drug will have time to take effect.
For any of the tests, you may be asked to change clothes or remove your electronics and other objects from your pockets, depending on the body part to be examined. Zippers, snaps, cell phones, coins, etc., will “over-shadow” the area of interest if they are present, so removing those items is in your best interest for an accurate exam. For some exams, you may be asked that you not to eat or drink the night before.