Nuclear Medicine: Patient Information
Here is information on what to expect when visiting the Nuclear Medicine Department.
- Length of Visit
- Preparation for your Nuclear Medicine Examination
- Benefits and Risks of Nuclear Medicine Imaging
- Recommended Websites
Length of Visit
Nuclear Medicine visits can last several hours and sometimes require return visits for additional pictures or procedures. To help you plan ahead, we will tell you ahead of time how long the type of testing you will receive typically takes and if you need to be prepared for follow-up visits.
Often there is “down time,” where you may feel idle. During this time, your body is actually performing the important task of capturing its physiology using the administered radiopharmaceutical. At the right time, we will use a special camera to capture an image of the energy (gamma rays) given off by the radiopharmaceutical in your body.
We will do our best to make your visit as efficient as possible, and ask for your patience during any “down time.” It is there to ensure the best possible examination.
We also perform bone densitometry (dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry or DEXA) in the nuclear medicine clinic. DEXA uses very low dose x-rays instead of radioactive isotopes. You will receive special instructions for this approximately 15-minute–long examination. General information on bone densitometry (DEXA) can be found here (opens to a new page).
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Preparation for your Nuclear Medicine Examination
- You may be asked to wear a gown during the exam, or you may be allowed to wear your own clothing.
- Women should always inform their physician or technologist if there is any possibility that they are pregnant or if they are breastfeeding.
- You should inform your physician and the technologist performing your exam of any medications you are taking, including vitamins and herbal supplements. You should also tell them if you have any allergies, have had a recent illness or have any other medical conditions.
- Jewelry and other metallic accessories should be left at home, if possible, or removed prior to the exam. They may interfere with the procedure.
- You will receive specific instructions from the nuclear medicine clinic based on the type of scan you are undergoing. Please note that these are not recommendations. Because nuclear medicine examinations can be extremely sensitive to outside influences, these instructions should be strictly followed. If you have special circumstances making it difficult for you to follow the provided instructions, please contact our staff prior to your examination so that we can find a solution and make sure you get the best study possible.
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Benefits and Risks of Nuclear Medicine Imaging
- The information provided by nuclear medicine examinations is unique and often unattainable using other imaging procedures.
- For many diseases, nuclear medicine scans yield the most useful information needed to make a diagnosis or to determine appropriate treatment, if any.
- Nuclear medicine is less expensive and may yield more precise information than exploratory surgery.
- Because the doses of radiotracer administered are small, diagnostic nuclear medicine procedures have a very low radiation risk that is easily outweighed by the many potential benefits of the procedures.
- Nuclear medicine diagnostic procedures have been used for more than five decades, and there are no known long-term adverse effects from such low-dose radiation exposure.
- Allergic reactions to radiopharmaceuticals are extremely rare and usually mild. Nevertheless, you should inform the nuclear medicine personnel of any allergies you may have or problems that may have occurred during a previous nuclear medicine exam.
- Injection of the radiotracer may cause slight pain and brief redness.
- Because radiation risks have not been studied in fetuses and breastfeeding infants, women should always inform their physician or radiology technologist if they could be pregnant or are breastfeeding.
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Learn more about nuclear medicine on these recommended websites (all open to a new window):
Radiology Info: General Nuclear Medicine
Society of Nuclear Medicine Resource Center
“What is Nuclear Medicine?” – Brochure, Society of Nuclear Medicine
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