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Understanding Nuclear Medicine

What is Nuclear Medicine?

Nuclear medicine uses a radiopharmaceutical that consists of a medicine (a pharmaceutical) that is mixed with a small quantity of radioactive material (a radioisotope).There are many different radiopharmaceuticals available to study different organs of the body. Which radiopharmaceutical is used will depend on the condition to be diagnosed or treated.

Radiopharmaceuticals are mainly introduced into the patient’s body by injection but can also be introduced by swallowing, or breathing. The pharmaceutical is designed to go to a specific place in the body where there could be disease or an abnormality. The radioisotope emits radiation known as gamma rays (similar to X-rays) and is then detected using a special camera called a gamma camera. This type of camera allows our radiologist to see what is happening inside your body.


What to expect during your nuclear medicine exam

Your exam will be completed by a technologist who is board certified and has been specifically trained and educated in the theory and practice of nuclear medicine technology. The technologist’s responsibilities include the administration of the radiopharmaceutical and operation of the special imaging equipment.

During this imaging procedure you will lie down and a gamma camera will be placed close to your body. Images are then acquired anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours. The acquired images allow our radiologist to interpret the nuclear medicine study. Depending on the kind of images that need to be taken, our gamma cameras will operate in a stationary mode, imaging the whole body, or rotate around the body.

Gamma cameras do not hurt and are very quiet in their operation. Nuclear medicine gamma cameras also do not emit any radiation to patients.


Important Information

Please inform the nuclear medicine technologist if you may be pregnant. If there is any possibility of pregnancy, a pregnancy test may be ordered before the exam. All therapeutic treatments require a blood pregnancy test prior to the treatment. It will take at least 75 minutes to receive the results from the pregnancy test.


Common procedures

Thyroid Uptake and Scans are used to determine the overall function and visual appearance of the thyroid gland. There are specific medication and radiographic contrast preparations prior to exam. Generally a two day procedure with day one imaging consisting of 1 hour. The Iodine 123 capsule is administered orally.

Lung Scans (V/Q) are used to show both blood flow and the movement of air in and out of the lungs which can help detect the presence of blood clots. Imaging time is usually 45 minutes to 1 hour. The two-part test consists of part 1 breathing through a mask to image airflow and part 2 an IV injection to image the lung’s blood perfusion. A chest X-ray is required along with the scan. Images are reviewed by our radiologists prior to the patient leaving the department.

Liver/Spleen Scans are used to help diagnose disorders such as cirrhosis, hepatitis, and cysts. Exam time is usually 1 hour following an IV injection. The patient is encouraged to drink lots of liquid before the scan.

Gastric Emptying Scans are used to help diagnose the specific emptying time of food being processed by the stomach. The exam takes at least 90 minutes with the patient lying on their back after they have finished a meal of oatmeal or eggs containing a small amount of a radiopharmaceutical. The ordering physician may also order Reglan to be administered through an IV followed by an additional 90 minutes of imaging time. The Reglan helps to increase the stomach’s digestion rate.

Hepatobiliary/Gallbladder (HIDA) Scans are used to identify potential obstructions in the gallbladder and into specific ducts (canals) leading to the small intestine from the liver. HIDA scans also can determine if a gallbladder is diseased or not functioning properly with an additional medication called CCK (Sincalide or Kinevac). This medication can cause the gallbladder to contract (which may temporarily reproduce suspected gallbladder symptoms) and allows the technologist to measure the function of the gallbladder. Morphine is sometimes administered during a HIDA scan to help visualize the gallbladder, not for pain relief. Please bring a driver in case of morphine administration, or have someone that can pick you up if you drive yourself. Your ordering physician will give you further specific instructions prior to your study. Exam time is usually 1 to 2 hours and all pharmaceuticals are administered by IV.

Bone Scans are used to detect bone growth, metastatic tumors, fractures, infections, and other conditions. All bone scans require an IV injection, and delayed imaging will occur from 3 to 4 hours after injection. Scan times range from 30 minutes to 1 hour. Please drink lots of liquid prior to your study.

  • Total Body Bone Scan – Whole body images are taken from the top of the head to the feet. Routine additional images may also be acquired.
  • Three Phase Bone Scan – When infection is suspected, images are taken of the affected areaupon IV injection of the radiopharmaceutical along with 4-hour delay images.
  • Limited Bone Scan – When a specific area of the body is of concern, a limited bone scan to that area is obtained. Imaging usually begins 3 to 4 hours after injection.
  • Bone SPECT – A limited bone scan is performed prior to SPECT imaging. The SPECT acquisition allows a more detailed and focused set of images to a specific area of interest, especially if micro fractures or other abnormalities are suspected.

Renal Scans are used to detect disease, damage, and malformations of the kidneys and urinary tract. Nuclear medicine renal scans also may detect if there are strictures in the vessels leading to the kidneys (renal arterial stenosis) and blockages from kidney stones in the renal pelvis (UPJ obstructions.) Exam times are 30 minutes or 1 hour depending on the diagnoses. Medications such as Capoten and Lasix may be ordered along with the nuclear medicine renal scans, and your physician will give you the specific instructions for those exams. This exam requires an IV.

Iodine 131 Therapy is used to treat specific thyroid related disorders such as hyperthyroidism (Grave’s Disease) or thyroid cancer. Our nuclear medicine department will cover all aspects of I-131 therapy including the mechanism of treatment, side effects, and radiation safety.

Brain Scans are used to detect dementia and other cerebral vascular disorders by giving the physician a view of the general perfusion of the brain. These exams generally take 2 hours, and all pharmaceuticals are administered by IV.


What to expect after your nuclear medicine exam

The images will be reviewed and interpreted by a radiologist (a physician specializing in radiology), and a written report will be sent to the physician who ordered the exam. Your doctor will contact you about the results of your nuclear medicine exam. If you have any questions or need to contact the Baptist Health Lexington Nuclear Medicine Department, our phone number is 859-260-6158.


Arrive on time

Please arrive approximately 30 minutes prior to your scheduled exam time.If you must cancel or reschedule, please contact our Nuclear Medicine scheduling department at 859-260-6547 at least 24 hours before your appointment.


Baptist Health Lexington Scheduling:

859-260-6547 or 1-800-280-5090



Baptist Health Lexington
Main Campus
1740 Nicholasville Road



The American College of Radiology awards accreditation to facilities for the achievement of high practice standards in image quality, personnel qualifications, adequacy of facility equipment, quality control procedures, quality assurance programs and safety guidelines. Providing you with the finest care and service possible is our goal.

We encourage your comments on the care you receive as a patient. Should you have a suggestion, comment or question while you are here, please let us know or you may call 859-260-6168 to speak with a patient representative. Thank you for letting us serve you.