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Radioisotope Scans

Last updated Jan. 18, 2019

Bionerd

Radioisotope Scans are noninvasive procedures that use very small amounts of radioactive material to diagnose and treat various types of diseases, such as heart disease, cancers, endocrine, gastrointestinal, and neurological problems.


Background Information:

What are the other Names for the Procedure?

  • Radionuclide Scans

What is Radioisotope Scans radiology procedure? (General Explanation)

  • Radioisotope Scans are noninvasive procedures that use very small amounts of radioactive material to diagnose and treat various types of diseases, such as heart disease, cancers, endocrine, gastrointestinal, and neurological problems
  • It provides details about the molecular activity in the body and helps detect diseases in their early stages
  • A radiotracer can be sent to the organ via injection, swallow, or inhalation of a gas, which eventually goes to the target organ; then, special imaging devices detect the emission and produce pictures
  • In image fusion, images are taken using nuclear medicine and superimposed with a CT or MRI scan to produce special images, in order to obtain more information and an accurate diagnosis

What part of the Body does the Procedure involve?

In adults, Radioisotope Scan procedures are used for many organs, such as the heart, thyroid, bones, brain, liver, lung, kidneys, gallbladder, and spleen.

Why is the Radioisotope Scans radiology procedure Performed?

Radioisotope Scans can be used to diagnose the following conditions:

  • Jaundice
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding
  • Blockage in kidney
  • Bone cancers
  • Urine reflux from the bladder into the kidney
  • Infections
  • Epilepsy
  • Abnormality in thyroid glands
  • Trauma

What is the Equipment used? (Description of Equipment)

A Radioisotope Scan procedure may use the following tools:

  • Positron emission tomography (PET)
  • Single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT)
  • Gamma camera

Gamma camera:

  • A gamma camera detects radiation and takes pictures from different angles
  • The gamma camera is used in SPECT as well, which rotates around the body to produce 3D images of the body
  • A computer uses data from the cameras and produces images

What are the Recent Advances in the Procedure?

There have been no recent advances to replace Radioisotope Scan procedures.

What is the Cost of performing the Radioisotope Scans radiology procedure?

The cost of a Radioisotope Scan procedure depends on a variety of factors, such as the type of your health insurance, annual deductibles, co-pay requirements, out-of-network and in-network of your healthcare providers and healthcare facilities.

In many cases, an estimate may be provided before the procedure. The final amount depends upon the findings during the surgery/procedure and post-operative care that is necessary. 

When do you need a Second Opinion, prior to Procedure?

  • It is normal for a patient to feel uncomfortable and confused with a sudden inflow of information regarding Radioisotope Scan procedures and what needs to be done
  • If the patient needs further reassurance or a second opinion, a physician will almost always assist in recommending another physician.
  • Also, if the procedure involves multiple steps or has many alternatives, the patient may take a second opinion to understand and choose the best one. They can also choose to approach another physician independently.

What are some Helpful Resources?

http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/howard_county_general_hospital/services/diagnostics_testing/diagnostics_imaging/nuclear_medicine.html (accessed on 08/04/2014)

Prior to Radioisotope Scans radiology procedure:

How does the Radioisotope Scans radiology procedure work?

The Radioisotope Scan procedure is outlined:

  • The patient is given radioactive material, which accumulates in the target organ
  • After the radioactive material has accumulated, a gamma camera, SPECT, or PET scan, detects the radioactivity and takes pictures
  • During coronary artery scan, images of blood flow to the heart at rest are taken. After the first scan at rest, the patient is asked to do some exercises for the stress test, or given medications to increase blood flow to the heart
  • During exercise, blood flow to the heart increases and thus blockages of coronary arteries are easy to detect. Another scan is performed and it is compared to the scan at rest, to find any blockages

How is the Radioisotope Scans radiology procedure Performed?

The Radioisotope Scan procedure is performed as:

  • An intravenous (IV) line is inserted into the patient’s arm
  • The radioactive tracer is injected through an IV, or taken orally, inhaled, or injected via a catheter, depending on the nuclear medicine exam
  • After the radiotracer injection, the physician waits until the radiotracer accumulates inside the patient’s body. This may take a few hours to a few days
  • On the day of imaging, the patient is asked to lie down on a movable imaging table in various positions
  • The patient may be asked to hold their breath during the procedure
  • The IV line is removed at the end of the procedure

Where is the Procedure Performed?

Radioisotope Scan services are typically provided to both inpatients and outpatients. 

Who performs the Procedure?

Radioisotope Scan procedures are performed by nuclear medicine technologists.

How long will the Procedure take?

  • The length of time for Radioisotope Scans varies greatly, depending on the type of exam being performed
  • The actual scanning time for nuclear imaging exams can take anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours, and may be conducted over several days

Who interprets the Result?

A radiologist, who has specialized training in Radioisotope Scan procedures, interprets the results from the procedure and informs the primary care physician, who then informs the patient.

What preparations are needed, prior to the Procedure?

The following preparations may be needed prior to a Radioisotope Scan procedure:

  • The physician may evaluate the individual’s medical history to gain a comprehensive knowledge of the overall health status of the patient, including information related to the medications that are being currently taken
  • Do inform the medical professional if you have a history of any medical conditions, such as a heart disease, asthma, diabetes, or kidney disease
  • The patient may continue their medications, but if they are taking beta-blocker medications, they should ask the physician about temporary discontinuation of the same
  • Do inform the medical professional about any allergies, especially related to barium or iodinated contrast material, which may be used in the procedure
  • The individual should not take caffeine and avoid smoking for 48 hours before the procedure
  • It is advisable to wear comfortable and loose clothes. Avoid wearing any metal objects or jewelry, as it may interfere with the x-ray
  • It is highly recommended to inform your healthcare professional, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • The patient must avoid eating or drinking at least 8 hours prior to the procedure, depending on when the procedure is arranged
  • Depending on the procedure adopted, the patient may be asked for certain bowel or bladder preparations, before the preparation sessions

What is the Consent Process before the Procedure?

A physician will request your consent for Radioisotope Scan procedures using an Informed Consent Form.

Consent for the Procedure: A “consent” is your approval to undergo a procedure. A consent form is signed after the risks and benefits of the procedure, and alternative treatment options, are discussed. This process is called informed consent.

You must sign the forms only after you are totally satisfied with the answers to your questions. In case of minors and individuals unable to personally give their consent, the individual’s legal guardian or next of kin, shall give their consent for the procedure.

What are the Benefits versus Risks, for this Procedure?

Following are the benefits of Radioisotope Scan procedures:

  • It is noninvasive and less expensive procedure and provides detailed information
  • It provides details about both structure and function, which is usually unobtainable with other imaging techniques

Following are the risks of Radioisotope Scan procedures:

  • Patients may develop an allergic reaction to radioactive material used in the procedure, but it is very rare
  • The amount of radioactive material used in the procedure is very small, so the risk from radiation is very minimal compared to other procedures

What are the Limitations of Radioisotope Scans radiology procedure?

Following are the limitations of Radioisotope Scan procedures:

  • Generally, nuclear medicine scans do not provide resolution of structures, as high as other imaging techniques
  • The procedure takes a long time as radioactive materials take time to accumulate in the target organ or structure

What are some Questions for your Physician?

Some of the basic questions that you might ask your healthcare provider or physician are as follows:

  • What are Radioisotope Scans?
  • Why is this procedure necessary? How will it help?
  • How soon should I get it done? Is it an emergency?
  • Who are the medical personnel involved in this procedure?
  • Where is the procedure performed?
  • What are the risks while performing the procedure?
  • What are the complications that might take place, during recovery?
  • What are the possible side effects from the procedure? How can I minimize these side effects?
  • How long will it take to recover? When can I resume normal work?
  • How many such procedures have you (the physician) performed?
  • Are there any lifestyle restrictions or modifications required, after the procedure is performed?
  • Are there any follow-up tests, periodic visits to the healthcare facility required, after the procedure?
  • Is there any medication that needs to be taken for life, after the procedure?
  • What are the costs involved?

During the Radioisotope Scans radiology procedure:

What is to be expected during the Radioisotope Scans radiology procedure?

The following may be expected during Radioisotope Scan procedures:

  • Radioisotope Scans do not cause any pain
  • The table you lie on may feel hard and the room may be cool
  • It may be hard to lie still during the test
  • Some individuals may feel nervous during the procedure

What kind of Anesthesia is given, during the Procedure?

The patient may receive anesthesia or sedation for Radioisotope Scan procedures.

How much Blood will you lose, during the Procedure?

There is only a minimal loss of blood involved during Radioisotope Scan procedures.

What are the possible Risks and Complications during the Radioisotope Scans radiology procedure?

Following are the possible risks of Radioisotope Scans:

  • Some patients may develop an allergic reaction to the radioactive material used in the procedure, but this is  very rare occurrence
  • The amount of radioactive material used in the procedure is very small, so the risk from radiation is very minimal, when compared to other procedures

What Post-Operative Care is needed at the Healthcare Facility after the Radioisotope Scans radiology procedure?

  • The healthcare provider shall inform or provide instructions to the patient on the type of post-procedure care that is required
  • The patient may have to take plenty of water to help flush the radioactive material out of their body, as instructed by the nuclear medicine personnel, after a Radioisotope Scan procedure 

After the Radioisotope Scans radiology procedure:

What is to be expected after the Radioisotope Scans radiology procedure?

The following may be expected after a Radioisotope Scan:

  • The patient is advised to drink plenty of water for the first few hours, after the procedure in order to get rid of small amounts of radioactive material left in the body
  • The patient may resume his/her normal activities after the procedure, unless otherwise suggested by the physician

When do you need to call your Physician?

If the patient is experiencing an allergic reaction; then, do contact the physician immediately.

What Post-Operative Care is needed at Home after the Radioisotope Scans radiology procedure?

Generally, there is no postoperative care required at home, after the Radioisotope Scan procedure.

How long does it normally take to fully recover, from the Procedure?

If anesthesia is given, the recovery should take about 24 hours. Otherwise, the patient is able to resume their normal activities, soon after the Radioisotope Scan procedure.

Additional Information:

What happens to tissue (if any), taken out during the Procedure?

No tissue is extracted from the patient during a Radioisotope Scan procedure.

When should you expect results from the pathologist regarding the tissue taken out, during the Procedure?

Since no tissue is removed during the procedure, a pathologist does not get involved in the care of the patient.

Who will you receive a Bill from, after the Radioisotope Scans radiology procedure?

It is important to note that the number of bills that the patient may receive depends on the arrangement the healthcare facility has with the physician and other healthcare providers.

Sometimes, the patient may get a single bill that includes the healthcare facility and the consultant physician charges. Sometimes, the patient might get multiple bills depending on the healthcare provider involved. For instance, the patient may get a bill from:

  • The hospital, where the procedure is performed
  • A radiologist, performing the procedure
  • Healthcare providers, physicians, who are involved in the process

The patient is advised to inquire and confirm the type of billing, before Radioisotope Scan procedures are performed.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Aug. 25, 2014
Last updated: Jan. 18, 2019