What is Nuclear Medicine?


Nuclear Medicine is a subspecialty within the field of radiology. It includes diagnostic imaging studies that demonstrate body anatomy and function. 


The images are based on the distribution of a radioactive substance given to the patient, either intravenously, by mouth or inhaled into the lungs. Generally, radiation to the patient is similar to that resulting from standard x-ray examinations. 


Nuclear medicine images can assist the physician in diagnosing diseases. Tumors, infections and other disorders can be diagnosed by evaluation organ function.


What To Expect

A radiopharmaceutical agent, or tracer, is usually administered into a vein. Depending on the type of exam that is being performed, the imaging will be done either immediately, a few hours later, or even several days after the injection.


Imaging time varies, generally ranging from 20-45 minutes. During this time, you will be asked to lie under a gamma camera that is placed close to your body. The camera does not emit radiation but simply records the radiation emitted from the tracer that was administered. While the images are being obtained, you must remain as still as possible and refrain from talking in an effort to avoid blurry images. Some procedures require multiple images taken over a period of time. The radioactive tracer decays over time and is eliminated through normal body functions.


An NHRA physician with expertise in nuclear medicine interprets these images and sends a report of findings to your doctor. Although nuclear medicine studies are used primarily for diagnosis, tracers also can be used to treat some disease, including hyperthyroidism and certain cancers.


Your physician will receive the results of the exam, discuss the findings with you and prescribe treatment as necessary.


How To Prepare

Usually, no special preparation is required for nuclear medicine studies.  If they are any, you will receive special instructions with your appointment confirmation.


However, for some exams, you may be asked to skip a meal or avoid caffeine and shell fish. 


The amount of radiation received from nuclear medicine exams is safe for adults as well as children but be sure to inform the technologist if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. 


Certain studies are not recommended for pregnant women because unborn children are very sensitive to radiation. Women who are breast-feeding may need to discontinue temporarily until the tracer is eliminated.