A renal scan is a nuclear medicine test that shows how your kidneys work. A nuclear medicine technologist injects a small amount of radioactive material into your vein. Then they use a special camera to take pictures of your kidneys. Your healthcare provider uses the results to plan treatments for any kidney issues.
A renal scan is a nuclear medicine test to see how well your kidneys work. The kidney scan also shows how your kidneys look. The medical term for a kidney scan is renal scintigraphy.
Your healthcare provider injects small amounts of radioactive material (radioisotope or tracer) into your vein. You’ll pass through a scanner, which locates the radioactive material in your kidneys and sends images to a computer.
A kidney scan helps your healthcare provider detect kidney diseases and injuries at an early stage. Your healthcare provider also uses renal scans to check your progress after a kidney transplant.
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Your healthcare provider orders a renal scan when they suspect your kidneys aren’t working as they should. Healthcare providers may first see signs of reduced kidney function levels using blood and urine tests or an X-ray.
Your healthcare provider may also order a scan to check your kidneys if you:
Renal scintigraphy helps diagnose:
During a kidney test, a nuclear medicine technologist takes images of your kidneys. These images show blood flow into and out of your kidneys. They also show urine flow between your kidneys, ureters (which connect your kidneys and bladder) and bladder. The nuclear scan results help your healthcare provider see whether you have reduced kidney function or blockage.
Nuclear medicine technologists use four kinds of renal scans:
Before a renal scan, you’ll need to bring in a complete medication list, including vitamins and herbal supplements. Your healthcare provider may ask you to stop taking some of your medications a few days before your surgery. For instance, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including ibuprofen and aspirin, can affect kidney scan results.
Tell your healthcare provider if you’re:
Your healthcare provider may ask you to drink extra water before the test. Sometimes, you’ll need to empty your bladder before the exam starts.
Before the nuclear scan starts, remove all of your jewelry and metal objects or leave them at home. They can interfere with the exam.
The length of your procedure varies by type of renal scan. In general, during the scan:
After the nuclear medicine technologist removes your IV, you’re free to go home. You can return to your everyday activities immediately.
The radioisotope leaves your body through your urine. You won’t feel any pain or discomfort from the tracer.
The risks of a kidney scan are very low. The scan provides less radiation than an X-ray does.
Renal scan risks may include:
A nuclear medicine technologist or radiologist reviews the results of your renal scan. Then, they send a report to your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider will contact you to discuss findings and next steps in your treatment.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Your healthcare provider uses a renal scan to diagnose specific kidney problems. This nuclear medicine test is an outpatient procedure that takes from 30 minutes to two hours. Your healthcare provider uses renal scan results to decide on the right treatments for any kidney function issues you may have. Renal scan risks are low and you can return immediately to your usual activities.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/14/2021.
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