What is nuclear medicine?
Our nuclear medicine department carries out around 20 different tests including heart scans, bone scans, lung scans, kidney scans and thyroid scans.
Diagnostic nuclear medicine involves the use of radiopharmaceuticals (drugs labelled with radioactivity) to assess the function of various organs or systems in the body. Imaging is undertaken using a gamma camera, which is a radiation detector and produces images of the distribution of radioactivity in the patient.
Before the test begins, you will be given a small amount of radioactive material known as a radiopharmaceutical. This is usually given as a small injection into a vein (similar to having a blood sample taken) or sometimes swallowed or inhaled (breathed in). There should be little or no discomfort during the test – all nuclear medicine procedures are safe, effective, and painless.
The way the test is carried out depends on the type of examination your doctor has requested. In many cases, there will be a delay between the time you are given the radiopharmaceutical, and the time the images are taken. This gives the radiopharmaceutical time to flow through the body and concentrate in the organ that is being examined.
In some cases, a series of images will be taken with a delay of several hours or sometimes days between them. For most examinations, you will lie comfortably on a special table. A Gamma Camera will be positioned over your body and will be moved or rotated around you, depending on the test. The camera detects the radioactive substance inside your body and displays this information as a picture on a screen.
Is there any risk from the radiation?
Nuclear medicine staff are trained in radiation safety procedures. The radiopharmaceuticals used are given in the smallest possible doses needed to get the best quality results.
The radioactivity is quickly eliminated from the body – usually within 24 hours. There are usually no reactions or side-effects to nuclear medicine tests, and you should be able to resume your normal activities afterwards.
The benefits of these scans far outweigh the risk to your health. If you have any queries or concerns about this, please contact us using the details on your appointment letter.
How do I prepare for the test?
There is no general set of instructions covering every Nuclear Medicine examination. Your appointment letter will give you instructions on how to prepare for the test.
It is important you follow these instructions to ensure accurate diagnostic results.
How long will the test take?
This will depend on the type of examination you are having. Your appointment letter will give you the estimated time required in your case.
What happens after the test?
Unless you are told otherwise, you may resume your normal diet and activities immediately.
Diana, Princess of Wales Hospital