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Mercy Hospital

Nuclear medicine

Nuclear Medicine

For more information on general radiology, call
763-236-7150.

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Nuclear medicine is a safe, painless, and effective form of medical imaging which has been used worldwide for more than 60 years. This area of radiology uses small amounts of radioactive material (sometimes called a dose) to image the body and treat disease. Nuclear medicine is different than other areas of radiology because it looks at how a body part is working, not just what it looks like.

A nuclear medicine exam will allow your doctors to gather medical information about your body that otherwise may not be available. The radiation exposure to your body from nuclear medicine is very small, in most cases less than or equal to an x-ray.

The dose is given by mouth or small injection. From your body, the radioactivity gives off signals which are picked up by a special camera called a gamma camera. The camera creates a picture on a computer which is then evaluated by a specially trained doctor.

Be sure to dress comfortably so that you are relaxed during your test. The length of your exam varies depending on the type of exam your physician has ordered. Many nuclear medicine exams do require multiple visits to the Nuclear Medicine Department. Sometimes these visits need to occur several days apart. After your test is completed and evaluated by a physician, a result of your exam will be sent to your doctor. Your doctor will contact you with the results of your test within 1 week of your exam.

Special note: The radioactive material you will be receiving for your exam is formulated and ordered specifically for you and the test you are having. The dose can only be used within a short period of time, so you please notify our department 48 hours in advance if you need to cancel your exam.

YOU MUST INFORM YOUR PHYSICIAN AND THE NUCLEAR MEDICINE DEPARTMENT IF YOU ARE PREGNANT OR BREASTFEEDING.

About your appointment

Below are listed some of our most commonly ordered Nuclear Medicine tests. If the exam you are having is not listed below, contact your doctor for specific details about your test.

Bone scan

Bone scans are done for bone pain and/or to check for the spread of cancer to the bone. Other common reasons for having a bone scan are trauma, stress fractures, shin splints, bone infections, and loosened prosthesis.

Before the exam: There are no food, drink, or medicine restrictions before or after the injection. You should bring any recent x-rays of the effected area with you to your appointment.

During the exam: A bone scan in nuclear medicine is a test that has two steps:

  • You will be given an injection in your arm of a small amount of radioactive tracer. This injection has no side effects and will need to be in your body for two to three hours before your scan. During this wait you may leave the hospital. You will be asked to drink lots of extra fluids (soda, water, juice, coffee) until you come back for your scan.
  • When you return 2 to 3 hours later for your scan, you will be asked to lie down on the camera table. The scan is painless and the camera does not make any noise. Most of the time, the scan will take less than an hour.

After the exam: You will be able to return to normal activities when this exam is done. Your physician will contact you with the results of the test.

Hepatobiliary scan

This scan is done to checks for abnormalities in your liver and gallbladder. Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and an increase in your symptoms after eating fatty or spicy foods, may all be reasons for having this exam. This scan can be done with or without a test of your gallbladder function. Your doctor should determine whether or not you need the function part of this exam and should indicate this when scheduling your test in Nuclear Medicine.

Before the exam: You should not have anything to eat or drink for 4 hours before your exam. You should not take any pain medications which contain morphine or Demerol for 6 hours before the exam.

During the exam: For your scan, you will be given an injection of a small amount of radioactive tracer. This injection has no side effects and will travel through your body from your liver to your gallbladder. You will need to lie very still on an imaging table while pictures are taken. These will be taken by the camera and will take 45-60 minutes. The scan is painless and the camera does not make any noise.

If your doctor has ordered the second portion of the exam, you will be given a slow injection of a material to cause your gallbladder to squeeze. This injection can cause some stomach pressure and nausea, but it important in determining whether or not your pain is from gallbladder problems or not. Additional pictures are taken during this injection, which take another 45 minutes. Computers will be used to determine whether your gallbladder function is normal or not.

After the exam: You will be able to return to normal activities when this exam is done. Your physician will contact you with the results of the test.

Myocardial perfusion imaging (sometimes called a “cardiolite” stress test)

This test is done to look at the blood flow going to your heart muscle during periods of rest and stress. Common reasons for having this exam include chest pain, shortness of breath, EKG changes, diabetes, and history of heart disease. This test involves either an exercise treadmill or drug stress test. You should discuss with your doctor which type would be best for you.

There are two parts to this test. Both a rest and stress part will need to be done. Depending on your height, weight, and chest/bra size your test may be done all on one day or on two separate days. The one day exam takes from 2 to 3 hours. If you are having your exam over a two-day period, the stress portion will take about 2 hours and the rest portion will take about 1 hour.

Before the exam: You should hold all heart and blood pressure medications for 24 hours before the exam, unless your doctor gives you other instructions. You should not eat or drink anything with caffeine in it for 12 hours before the exam. This includes decaffeinated and regular coffee/tea, chocolate, and Excedrin pain reliever. Consuming even a few sips of coffee will cause your exam to be cancelled. Other restrictions for your exam are listed below:

  • Do not take any medications the day of your exam. All nicotine and nitroglycerin patches should also be removed the night before your exam.
  • You should not eat or drink anything for 6 hours before your exam.
  • Wear loose comfortable clothing and walking shoes for your exam.
  • Bring any respiratory inhalers that you use on a regular basis.
  • Please bring a list of all your medications with you.

During the exam: The technologist will explain the exam to you and review your medical history. You will undress from the waist up and wear a hospital gown. The technologist will start an IV line in your arm.

You will receive a small injection of radioactive material into your IV and images will be taken of your heart. After these images, you will be prepared for the stress portion of your exam. During your stress test (either exercise or medicine stress), you will receive a second injection of radioactive material. There is a 30-45 minute wait between your stress test and your second set of images. During this wait you will be given a small snack. Your second set of images will take about 30 minutes. A computer will process the images taken of your heart and this information will be evaluated by a cardiologist.

After the exam: Your IV will be taken out. You will be able to return to normal activities, including driving. You should resume taking your medications. Your physician will contact you with the results of the test.

Thyroid uptake and scan

This test is done to evaluate the anatomy (“how it looks”) and function (“how it works”) of your thyroid. Common reasons for having this test may include abnormal lab tests, weight loss/gain, and intolerance to heat/cold, difficulty swallowing, heart palpitations, or thyroid mass. This test involves swallowing a pill with a small amount of radioactive iodine in it and then returning the next day for a 30 minute scan.

Before the exam: You should have nothing to eat or drink for 2 hours before you arrive for your pill. There is a very strict list of items which interfere with the accuracy of this exam. You should receive instructions from your physician as to how long you need to be off any interfering medications. There needs to be several weeks between a radiology procedure involving contrast media and this exam. Some examples of these restrictions are listed below. The length of time between the below items and a thyroid uptake and scan will vary and specific instructions should come from your physician.

  • Thyroid medications (Tapazole, PTU, Synthroid, Trilodothyronine, Proloid, Levoxine)
  • Allergy medications and antihistamines
  • Contrast media for radiology procedures (CAT scan, IVP, Myelogram )
  • Kelp and seaweed products
  • Iodine-131 therapy
  • Large doses of aspirin
  • Pregnancy
  • Breastfeeding

During the exam: A thyroid uptake and scan is a nuclear medicine test which has two parts. You will be given a pill which has a small amount radioactive iodine in it. After you swallow the pill, you will be able to leave the department/hospital until the next day. The material in this pill must be in your body approximately 24 hours before the actual scan.

When you return on the second day for your exam, you will be asked to lie very still on the imaging table. You will need to lie on your back for the scan. The scan will take approximately 30 minutes. From these images, the computer will be able to calculate how over or under active your thyroid is functioning. This information will assist your physician in choosing treatment for you.

Iodine-131 treatment for hyperthyroid

This is a therapeutic nuclear medicine treatment for hyperthyroid. You must have a thyroid uptake and scan within 6 months before you can be scheduled for this treatment at Mercy Hospital.

Before the exam: Females under the age of 50 must have a negative pregnancy test no more than 4 days prior to this treatment. Other restrictions for this treatment are listed below (specific restrictions should come from your physician):

  • Thyroid medications (Tapazole, PTU, Synthroid, Trilodothyronine, Proloid, Levoxine)
  • Allergy medications and antihistamines
  • Contrast media for radiology procedures (CAT scan, IVP, Myelogram )
  • Kelp and seaweed products
  • Iodine-131 therapy
  • Large doses of aspirin.
  • Pregnancy
  • Breastfeeding

During the exam: Specific details about this treatment should come from the Nuclear Medicine Department at the time of your treatment.

After the exam: Some restrictions for after you have received this treatment are listed below:

  • Must be off work for 48 hours
  • No sexual contact for 48 hours
  • Must use separate bedroom and bathroom for 48 hours
  • Cannot be around small children or pregnant women for 48 hours
  • Females must use precautions to not get pregnant for 6 months

Additional restrictions will be given to you at the time of your treatment.


Source: Mercy & Unity Hospitals, Medical Imaging
Reviewed by: Amy Zachary, CNMT, Supervisor of Nuclear Medicine
First Published: 09/01/2002
Last Reviewed: 05/09/2006