X Marks the Spot

Just as a road map leads you to your destination, a nuclear imaging scan can lead you to the proper treatment. When you’re lost, you rely on your GPS or your trusty atlas. And when your body veers off course, your doctor may order a nuclear imaging scan to get it back on track.

For many, “nuclear” brings to mind two other words: duck and cover. The common nuclear imaging scan, however, gives your doctor a look at how a particular body part is functioning—a road map, if you will, of your internal workings.

Unlike an X-ray, which uses an external source to make an image, a nuclear imaging scan uses an internal source: a radiotracer that is ingested as a pill, inhaled or injected, depending on the body area being scanned. Thanks to the progress of modern-day science, the radiotracer collects in the targeted area by means of a gamma camera or a PET (positron emission tomography) scanner. The result is a picture-perfect guide to aid your doctor in steering your treatment. So what else can you expect if you’re scheduled for a nuclear imaging scan? Here’s the drill.

Your physician will provide you specific instructions on what you need to do before the scan. Depending on the type of scan, you may not be able to eat beforehand or may need to avoid certain foods. For a kidney scan, for example, you’ll be told to drink plenty of water.

Once you arrive for the test, let the radiologist know if you have allergies, have been sick lately or are pregnant or nursing. Also, tell the radiologist what medications you’re taking, including vitamins and herbal supplements. Leave jewelry and large belt buckles at home or be prepared to part with your accessories during the scan. On the bright side, a nuclear imaging scan usually doesn’t require you to wear a hospital gown, so you won’t need to change.

Next, the radiologist will administer the necessary radiotracer, which could take seconds, minutes or days to travel through your body, depending on the type. After it has run its course, it’s scan time.

Get comfy. You may spend anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours on the exam table. For example, a scan to check the lungs for air and blood flow could take 30 minutes to an hour. During this time, a gamma camera will take pictures as you remain very still—movement equals blurriness. Nuclear imaging itself is painless, but being in a still position may cause you discomfort. Afterward, you usually can get back to your normal activities immediately.


Your doctor will discuss the next steps. As for the radiotracer, it will lose its radioactivity, but don’t be surprised if you’re asked to drink a lot of water and flush the toilet twice after using the bathroom as an added precaution.

Ready, Set, Scan
If you know someone with heart problems, you may have heard of nuclear imaging scans. That’s because they’re commonly used to check blood flow to the heart. But that’s just scratching the surface of what this scan can do. It also can take a look at your:
  • Organ function. If your doctor wants to get a closer look at how your kidneys, gallbladder, lungs or heart is functioning, a nuclear imaging scan can determine what’s happening and where.
  • Bones. Fractures, arthritis, infection and tumors can be identified earlier than on routine imaging.
  • Cancer. “We rely on the latest technical advancements in PET, SPECT and other molecular nuclear imaging scans to diagnose and stage cancer,” says Neal Frenkel, M.D., chief radiologist with GMC. “This allows us to determine your optimal personalized therapy.”
  • Thyroid and parathyroid. Scans assess normal and abnormal function with precision for subsequent treatment. 
  • Brain. Possible causes of memory loss and seizures can be distinguished using these studies.
See for Yourself
GMC’s Imaging Department offers a full scope of imaging tests, including nuclear medicine. Visit gmcimaging.com for more information, or call 678-312-3444 to schedule your imaging test.


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