Nuclear Medicine

What is Nuclear Medicine?

Nuclear medicine is a branch of medical imaging that uses small amounts of radioactive material to diagnose or treat a variety of diseases, including many types of cancers, heart disease and certain other abnormalities within the body.

Nuclear medicine procedures are noninvasive and painless medical tests that help physicians diagnose medical conditions. These imaging scans use radioactive materials called radiopharmaceuticals or radiotracers.

Depending on the type of nuclear medicine exam you are undergoing, the radiotracer is either injected into a vein, swallowed or inhaled as a gas and eventually accumulates in the organ or area of the body being examined where it gives off energy in the form of gamma rays. This energy is detected by a device called a gamma camera. These devices work together with a computer to measure the amount of radiotracer absorbed by your body and to produce special pictures offering details on both the structure and function of organs and tissues.

What are Some Common Uses of the Procedure?

Physicians use nuclear medicine procedures to visualize the structure and function of an organ, tissue, bone or system of the body.

Nuclear medicine imaging scans are performed to:

  • analyze kidney function
  • visualize heart blood flow and function
  • scan lungs for respiratory and blood flow problems
  • identify inflammation in the gallbladder
  • evaluate bones for fractures, infection, arthritis and tumors
  • determine the presence or spread of cancer in various parts of the body
  • identify bleeding in the bowels
  • locate the presence of infection
  • measure thyroid function to detect an overactive or underactive thyroid
  • investigate abnormalities in the brain, such as seizures, memory loss and abnormalities in blood flow
  • localize the lymph nodes before surgery in patients with breast cancer or melanoma

How should I prepare?

If you are scheduled for a Nuclear Medicine Test, arrive 15 minutes prior to your appointment and report to the Registration Desk of the hospital. If you are not scheduled, if you have questions, or are unable to keep your scheduled appointment, call Scheduling at (985) 730-6804. You will need a doctor's order to schedule an appointment.

You may be asked to wear a gown during the exam or you may be allowed to wear your own clothing. Jewelry and other metallic accessories should be left at home if possible, or removed prior to the exam because they may interfere with the procedure.

Your physician's office and/or Scheduling will provide specific instructions based on the type of scan you are undergoing.