Nuclear Medicine

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What Is Nuclear Medicine?

Nuclear medicine is a safe and painless imaging technology, which uses very small amounts of specially formulated radioactive materials (or tracers) to help diagnose and treat a variety of diseases. Nuclear medicine provides physicians information about medical problems based on how parts of the body function as differing from x-ray, which demonstrates a body's appearance (or structure).

All nuclear medicine exams involve IV injection, inhalation and/or swallowing of specially formulated compounds (tracers) with imaging at timed intervals. Tracers are attracted to specific organs, bones or tissues in the body, which then are detectable by special types of cameras. Reactions to these tracers are rare. The total amount of radiation a patient receives from a nuclear medicine examination is comparable to that received during a diagnostic x-ray.

Some examinations require special positioning, and most exams take one to two hours to complete though some will take longer.

Nuclear medicine testing is commonly used in children to evaluate bone pain, injuries, infection or kidney and bladder function. Common nuclear medicine applications include:

  • Diagnosis and treatment of thyroid conditions
  • Cardiac stress tests to analyze blood flow to the heart muscle
  • Bone scans for detection of cancer, infection or subtle bone injuries
  • Lung scans for blood flow to the lungs and air exchange
  • Liver and gall bladder scans