Nuclear medicine imaging is unique because it provides doctors with information about both structure and function. It is a way to gather medical information that would otherwise be unavailable, require surgery, or necessitate more expensive diagnostic tests. Nuclear medicine imaging procedures often identify abnormalities very early in the progress of a disease, long before many medical problems are apparent with other diagnostic tests.
Nuclear medicine uses very small amounts of radioactive materials (radiopharmaceuticals) to diagnose and treat disease. In imaging, the radiopharmaceuticals are detected by special types of cameras that work with computers to provide very precise pictures about the area of body being imaged. The amount of radiation in a typical nuclear imaging procedure is comparable with that received during a diagnostic x-ray, and the amount received in a typical treatment procedure is kept within safe limits.
Are Nuclear Medicine exams safe for my child?
Riley Nuclear Medicine follows Imaging Gently and ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) guidelines. Dosing is based on age/weight in order to keep radiation exposure to your child to a minimum.
Where does the radioactivity come from?
The radioactivity used in Nuclear Medicine comes from either nuclear reactors located in Canada, Europe, and Africa or from cyclotrons located in the United States. The radioactivity is sent to local radiopharmacies where it is tagged to different radiopharmaceuticals. It is then dispensed in unit dose form which is delivered to our department.
Does my child have to have an IV?
Many of the nuclear medicine tests require the use of an IV to inject the radiopharmaceutical. Our department has a transilluminator light, which shines light through the skin, available to help in the location of veins. We also have a topical anesthetic spray that “freezes” the skin temporarily in order to reduce the pain associated with IV placement.
Some nuclear tests require the patient to ingest the radiopharmaceutical. In this case, the radiopharmaceuticals are mixed with food (scrambled eggs, milk, or baby formula) or given in a pill form to be swallowed.
There are also tests that require the radiopharmaceutical to be inhaled into the lungs or injected through a bladder catheter.
Can I stay with my child during the exam?
Yes, parents are highly encouraged to stay with their children for the duration of the exam.
How long do nuclear medicine exams last?
First, some exams require a waiting period between injection and imaging. This wait-time can range from 2 – 24 hours depending on the type of exam.
Second, nuclear medicine images are not “instant” pictures like x-ray or CT. The images are built slowly as gamma photons coming out of the body accumulate on a special crystal detector over a period of time. Imaging can take as little as 1 minute to as much as 2 hours, depending on the type of study. In many cases, images must be taken at different time intervals (i.e. 2 hrs, 4 hrs, 24 hrs, etc.).
Will my child be sedated for the exam?
In certain cases, especially for bone or MIBG scans, sedation or general anesthesia may be ordered for your child. This is done to reduce the chance of movement during longer imaging studies.
What kind of diseases can nuclear medicine exams diagnose?
Nuclear medicine exams can provide early diagnosis of many diseases and are frequently ordered by specialists in urology, endocrinology, oncology, orthopedics, cardiology and neurology. They can determine if organ systems are functioning properly, monitor the effects of surgery or medical treatments, and identify tumors. Nuclear medicine exams can:
- Identify infection within the bones
- Determine the function of renal, cardiac and liver transplants
- Determine the origin location of seizures within the brain
- Determine blood flow to the brain
- Assess kidney function
- Assess gallbladder function
- Assess gastric motility
- Assess thyroid function
- Locate fractures in bones before they can be seen on x-rays
- Determine blood flow to the heart muscle
- Visualize tumors