As an integral part of patient care, nuclear medicine is used in the diagnosis, management, treatment, and prevention of serious disease. Nuclear medicine imaging procedures often identify abnormalities very early in the progression of a disease-long before some medical problems are apparent with other diagnostic tests. This early detection allows a disease to be treated early in its course when there may be a more successful prognosis.
Today, nuclear medicine offers procedures that are helpful to a broad span of medical specialties, from pediatrics to cardiology to psychiatry. There are nearly one hundred different nuclear medicine imaging procedures available and every major organ system can be imaged utilizing nuclear medicine.
About Nuclear Medicine
Nuclear medicine involves the use of small amounts of radioactive materials (or tracers) to help diagnose and treat a variety of diseases. Nuclear medicine differs from an x-ray, ultrasound, or other diagnostic tests because it determines the cause of a medical problem based on the function of the organ, tissue or bone. The other methods determine the presence of disease based on structural appearance.
Radioactive materials, or radiopharmaceuticals, are introduced into the body by injection, swallowing or inhalation. Radiopharmaceuticals are substances that are attracted to specific organs, bones, or tissues and are used to study different parts of the body. The radiopharmaceuticals used in nuclear medicine emit gamma rays that can be detected externally by special types of cameras called gamma cameras. The newly renovated nuclear medicine suite includes two state-of-the-art nuclear medicine cameras.
- Bone scans to examine orthopaedic injuries, fractures, tumors, or unexplained bone pain. Bone scans may also be ordered for follow-up cancer patients.
- Heart scans to identify normal or abnormal blood flow to the heart muscle, coronary artery disease, or ischemia; measure heart function or determine the existence or extent of damage to the heart muscle after a heart attack
- Liver and gallbladder scans to evaluate liver and gallbladder function
- Renal imaging to examine kidney function.
- Thyroid uptake and scans to analyze the overall function of the thyroid and show the structure of the gland
- Lung scans to evaluate the flow of blood and movement of air into and out of the lung as well as determine the presence of blood clots
- Gastrointestinal bleeding scans
For some individuals, you may be directed to follow instructions, such as drinking several glasses of water or not eating for several hours.
Depending on the exam, nuclear medicine tests can take anywhere between a few hours to a few days. Time varies according to the needed time frame for the tracer to accumulate in the specific part of the body being studied. The time needed to obtain the images (from minutes to hours) will also vary depending on the test.