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Nuclear Medicine 

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Patients referred for nuclear medicine tests can schedule their exams at several locations in the Hampton Roads area. Sentara staff takes care to ensure that patients are well-informed about their procedure and feel comfortable during the process. Physicians, as well as techs who performs the exam, are specially trained and certified for the procedure.


About Nuclear Medicine 

Nuclear medicine is a safe and painless way to gather information that may be unavailable from other types of tests.

Radio pharmaceuticals are introduced into the patient's body by injection, swallowing or inhalation.

A gamma camera detects these emissions in the organ, bone or tissues.

Areas of greater intensity, called "hot spots," indicate where large amounts of the radiotracer have accumulated and where there is a high level of chemical activity. Less intense areas, or "cold spots," indicate a smaller concentration of radiotracer and less chemical activity.

 


What is nuclear medicine?
 Gamma Camera

 Gamma Camera

Nuclear medicine tests use small amounts of radioactive substances called tracers to diagnose or treat many diseases. It is a safe and painless way to gather information that may be otherwise unavailable from other types of tests

Radiopharmaceuticals are attracted to specific organs, bones or tissues. A patient will receive them by injection, swallowing or inhalation. The radiopharmaceutical produces radioactive emissions as it travels through the body. A gamma camera can detect the emissions in the organ, bone or tissue being imaged.

A nuclear medicine procedure is sometimes described as an "inside-out"  X-ray because it records radiation emitting from the patient's body instead of recording radiation beamed through the patient's body. There is no radiation being emitted from the camera.


What can a nuclear medicine exam tell my doctor?
Physicians use nuclear medicine to produce images of the structure and function of an organ, tissue, bone or system of the body.

A unique aspect of nuclear medicine is that it can both detect structure and function of the area being studied. This sensitivity often enables a nuclear medicine test to show an abnormality very early in the progression of some diseases, even before the problem would become apparent with other examinations.

Nuclear medicine imaging scans are performed to:
Analyze kidney function
Visualize heart blood flow and function, including after a heart attack
Scan lungs for respiratory and blood flow problems
Identify obstruction to or from the gallbladder
Evaluate bones for fractures before they can be seen on an X-ray, infection, arthritis, density and tumors
Investigate abnormalities in the esophagus and intestines
Study abnormal lesions
Look at whether brain cells are function properly, including sites of seizures, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease
Determine the presence or spread of cancer in various parts of the body
Identify bleeding into the bowel
 Evaluate the openness of tear ducts and shunts in the brain and heart
Locate infections

Nuclear medicine therapies are also available. They include treatment of :
Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland, for example, Graves' disease) and thyroid cancer
Lymphoma
Blood disorders
Painful tumor metastases to the bones
Adrenal gland tumors in adults and nerve tissue tumors in children
Blood disorders
Painful tumor metastases to the bones
Adrenal gland tumors in adults and nerve tissue tumors in children


How do I prepare for my exam?
Tell the tech if you have any allergies, recent illnesses and other medical conditions. If so, the tech may need to made adjustments for the procedure. 

Also, be sure to tell the tech if you are pregnant or are breastfeeding. Nuclear medicine tests usually are not recommended for pregnant women.

You should also inform your physician and the tech performing your exam of any medications you are taking, including vitamins and herbal supplements.

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 may interfere with the procedure and should be removed.

You will receive specific instructions based on the type of scan you are undergoing.


How is the test performed?
Before the test, you receive the tracer, often by an injection. Although tracers are radioactive, the dosage is small. During most nuclear scanning tests, you lie still on a scanning table while the camera makes images.

Once in the body, tracers give off emissions that can be detected by a device called a gamma camera. The camera transforms the emissions into images that provide information about the anatomy and function of the body part being imaged.

"Hot spots," areas of greater intensity, indicate where large amounts of the radiotracer have accumulated and where there is a high level of chemical activity. "Cold spots," or less intense activity, indicate a smaller concentration of radiotracer and less chemical activity.

Actual scanning time for nuclear imaging exams can take from 20 minutes to several hours and may be conducted over several days. However, most tests take from 30 to 60 minutes.


Are there risks?
Nuclear medicine is a safe and painless way to gather information that may be otherwise unavailable from other types of tests. Often, physicians will pair information gathered from nuclear medicine with images from other exams, such as an MRI, CT scan or X-ray to better diagnose their patient.

The radiation that patients are exposed to during a nuclear medicine procedure is equal to or less than a standard X-ray or CT scan covering the same body area.

Through the natural process of radioactive decay, the radiotracer in your body will lose its radioactivity over time. It may also pass out of your body through your urine or stool during the first few hours or days following the test.

You may be instructed to take special precautions after urinating, to flush the toilet twice and to wash your hands thoroughly. You should also drink plenty of water to help flush the radioactive material out of your body as instructed by the nuclear medicine personnel.


How will I find out the results?
After the examination, your nuclear medicine scans will be reviewed by a radiologist, a physician who specializes in the interpretation of diagnostic medical images. Your personal physician will receive a report of the radiologist's findings.


Nuclear Medicine Locations: 
Advanced Imaging Center First Colonial, Virginia Beach 
Advanced Imaging Center Leigh, Norfolk 
Sentara CarePlex Hospital, Hampton 
Sentara Heart Hospital
Sentara Leigh Hospital, Norfolk
Sentara Norfolk General Hospital
Sentara Obici Hospital, Suffolk
Sentara Princess Anne Hospital
Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center 

For more information about nuclear medicine, visit Medline Plus, a service of the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

For frequently asked questions about nuclear medicine, visit the Radiology Info website, public information website developed and funded by the American College of Radiology (ACR) and the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA). 

Sources:
American Society of Radiologic Technicians
Medline Plus
Radiology Info


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