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Going for a Nuclear Medicine Test

If you are a patient who is going for a nuclear medicine test, the British Nuclear Medicine Society has produced some information that can help to explain what will happen during your appointment. After reading this information, if you still have any unanswered questions, please contact the nuclear medicine department where you will be going for your test.
There are lots of different nuclear medicine tests and they can be called by different names in different departments. Only some of the common tests are described here. If the test that you are going for isn’t mentioned here please ask the department who have given you the appointment if you have any questions about it.
Details of how a scan is carried out may vary from one department to another and may be changed according to individual patient conditions. Therefore the preparation for your test and your experience of it may be slightly different to what is described here. If you receive an appointment for a nuclear medicine test it is very important that you read carefully any information and instructions given by the department that will be doing your test.

Click on the highlighted links below to find out more information about each test.

Nuclear medicine bone scans
A bone scan is a nuclear medicine test that looks at the functional activity of some cells in your bones. It can be used to look for many different things, such as injury, infection and bone destruction.

Nuclear medicine heart scans
There are several types of nuclear medicine heart scans.
A myocardial perfusion scan looks at the blood supply to the muscles of your heart (the myocardium). It is usually done in two parts, at stress and at rest. The scan is most often carried out as a technetium myocardial perfusion scan but it can also be done as a thallium myocardial perfusion scan.
A cardiac blood pool scan is used to measure how well your heart is pumping blood around your body. It is also known as a MUGA scan or sometimes radionuclide ventriculography.
There are also some other types of nuclear medicine heart scan that are not described here.

Nuclear medicine brain scans
There are two common types of nuclear medicine brain scan.
A brain perfusion scan looks at the blood flow to different areas of your brain. It can be used to help in the diagnosis of dementia, strokes and in some kinds of epilepsy.
A DAT brain scan looks at the function of dopamine transporters in your brain. It is often used to help in the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor.

Nuclear medicine lung scans
A lung scan can be performed in two parts. One part looks at the blood flow to your lungs (this is called the perfusion) and the other part looks at the airflow to your lungs (called the ventilation). They may be performed separately or together. The lung scan is most commonly used to detect a pulmonary embolism (PE) which is a blood clot in the lungs.

Nuclear medicine tests of the kidney
There are three different sorts of kidney test that you may encounter in a nuclear medicine department. Your doctor will request the test that is most appropriate for your condition. Some patients may need more than one of these tests.
A GFR test (Glomerular Filtration Rate) measures how well your kidneys are working. It involves taking blood samples to see how quickly a tracer substance is removed from the blood. Although it gives an accurate measure of overall kidney function it cannot distinguish the contribution of each kidney separately.
A renogram is a test that takes a moving sequence of pictures to see how a tracer substance passes through the kidneys. It is used to see how well urine passes on from the kidneys into the bladder. It can also determine the relative contribution of each kidney to overall kidney function.

A DMSA kidney scan is a study that takes static pictures of the kidneys to see where a different tracer substance has accumulated. It produces pictures that show any areas of the kidney that have been damaged, for example as a result of repeated urinary tract infections. It can also give an accurate measure of the relative contribution of each kidney to overall renal function.

Nuclear Medicine PET scans
PET is short for Positron Emission Tomography. It is a nuclear medicine technique that uses a tracer substance to look at different parts of the body in a unique way. PET scans can be performed for a variety of different conditions.
An FDG PET scan is the most common type of PET scan. It uses FDG, a substance similar to glucose, to detect areas of high energy usage within the body. This can be used to investigate several different conditions.
There are also several other types of PET scan that can be performed in some specialist centres to investigate a variety of other specific conditions.

Nuclear medicine thyroid procedures
Nuclear medicine can be used to help investigate thyroid conditions (thyroid scan) and also to treat them (thyroid therapy).
A thyroid scan is used to investigate any unusual lumps in your thyroid or to measure how well your thyroid is working.
Radio-iodine treatment for hyperthyroidism is a treatment for an over-active thyroid (hyperthyroidism, also known as thyrotoxicosis).
Radio-iodine treatment for cancer is a treatment for thyroid cancer.

Printable versions of these leaflets are available here.

Bone Scan

What is a bone scan?

A bone scan is a nuclear medicine test that looks at the activity of some cells in your bones. A small amount of a radioactive material which collects in bone shows areas where bones are breaking down and being repaired. This breakdown and repair is a normal way of keeping your bones healthy, but in some diseases these processes go wrong and this can be seen clearly on a bone scan.

The bone scan can be used to look for many different things, such as injury, infection, cancer and other causes of bone damage.

Heart Scan (Technetium Myocardial Perfusion Scan)

 

This leaflet describes a type of heart scan known as a technetium myocardial perfusion scan. It is a nuclear medicine test that looks at the blood supply to the muscles of your heart (the myocardium). The test is usually done in two parts. The stress scan is done while your heart is working hard and the rest scan is done while your heart is resting. The two scans may be done on the same day or on different days.
The two scans are compared to look for differences which indicate areas of poor blood flow (which may cause chest pain) or no blood flow (due to a previous heart attack).

Thallium Heart Scan (Thallium Myocardial Perfusion Scan)

What is a thallium heart scan?

This leaflet describes a type of heart scan known as a thallium myocardial perfusion scan. It is a nuclear medicine test that looks at the blood supply to the muscles of your heart (the myocardium). The test is usually done in two parts. The stress scan is done while your heart is working hard and the rest scan is done while your heart is resting. The two parts of the scans are both done on the same day. 

The two scans are compared to look for differences which indicate areas of poor blood flow (which may cause chest pain) or no blood flow (due to a previous heart attack). Sometimes a third part of the scan may be needed on the next day. This can distinguish areas of the heart muscle that are not working but which still have a viable blood flow.

Cardiac Blood Pool Scan (MUGA Heart Scan)

What is a cardiac blood pool scan?

A cardiac blood pool scan is a nuclear medicine test of the heart. It is also known as radionuclide ventriculography but often referred to as a MUGA scan, because this stands for multiple gated acquisition. It is used to measure how well your heart is pumping blood around your body.

Brain Perfusion Scan

What is a brain perfusion scan?

A brain perfusion scan is a nuclear medicine test that looks at the blood flow to different areas of your brain. It can be used to help in the diagnosis of various conditions including dementia, stroke, ischaemia and in some kinds of epilepsy.

DAT Brain Scan

What is a DAT brain scan?

DAT stands for dopamine active transporter. Dopamine is a chemical which is important in areas of the brain that help control movement. A DAT brain scan is a nuclear medicine test that looks at the function of dopamine transporters in your brain. It is often used to help distinguish Parkinson’s disease from other causes of tremor or difficulties with movement.

Lung Scan

What is a lung scan?

A lung scan is a nuclear medicine test that looks at your lungs. There can be two parts to a lung scan. One part looks at the blood flow to your lungs (this is called the perfusion) and the other part looks at the airflow to your lungs (called the ventilation). By comparing the two sets of pictures it is possible to investigate various lung conditions, but it is most commonly used to detect a pulmonary embolism (PE). This is a blockage of one of the arteries in the lung caused by a blood clot. You may need to have both parts of the test or just one.

The Renogram

What is a renogram?

A renogram is a nuclear medicine test of the kidneys. It can be used to see how well each kidney is working and whether urine passes on into the bladder without obstruction.