What is nuclear medicine imaging?

Nuclear medicine imaging is a method of producing images by detecting radiation from different parts of the body after a radioactive tracer is given to the patient. The images are digitally generated on a computer and transferred to a nuclear medicine physician, who interprets the images to make a diagnosis.

Radioactive tracers used in nuclear medicine are, in most cases, injected into a vein. For some studies, they may be given by mouth. These tracers are not dyes or medicines, and they have no side effects. The amount of radiation a patient receives in a typical nuclear medicine scan tends to be very low.

How is nuclear medicine imaging different than other radiologic tests?

nuclear medicine imaging

The main difference between nuclear medicine imaging and other radiologic tests is that nuclear medicine imaging evaluates how organs function, whereas other imaging methods assess anatomy (how the organs look).

The advantage of assessing the function of an organ is that it helps physicians make a diagnosis and plan treatments for the part of the body being evaluated.

Before the test

There are no general rules for preparing for the nuclear medicine test, since each type of test has its own requirements.

For example, one test may require you to not eat or drink - except for water - from 6 hours before the test until the test is complete. Another test may have no restrictions at all.

If you are scheduled to have a nuclear medicine test at the Cleveland Clinic Imaging Institute and you are not sure how to prepare for it, please call 216.444.2772 for precise instructions.

On the day of the test

  • Please do not bring valuables such as jewelry or credit cards to the hospital.
  • You may be asked to change into a hospital gown.
  • The test is performed, and the results are reviewed by registered and licensed technologists and interpreted by board-certified nuclear radiologists and physicians.

During the test

You will lie on a padded examination table under a gamma camera. You will be positioned under the camera while it takes a series of pictures. Because the pictures are taken at a constant rate, you will be asked to lie still.

The average imaging time is less than one hour, but some studies require more than one hour and, in some cases, more than one visit.

A series of crystals inside the head of the camera detects the radiation coming from the body organ being examined, and forms a series of images. These images are interpreted by nuclear medicine physicians who search for any abnormalities or disease and then make a diagnosis.

After the test

Generally, you can resume your usual activities and normal diet immediately.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 2/7/2017...#4902