Nuclear Medicine: Everything You Need To Know

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Almost one hundred years ago, the use of x-ray imaging forever changed the way we diagnose and treat diseases, ailments and injuries. Since then the radiology world has continued to evolve, with new methods emerging to even further improve the diagnostic process. One notable improvement is the use of nuclear medicine. Nuclear medicine allows doctors to identify, diagnose, and treat certain conditions by using small amounts of radioactive material. It may sound scary, but it’s not. Here’s how it works.

What is nuclear medicine?

According to the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, nuclear medicine is a specialty that employs the use of radioactive tracers—or isotopes—to evaluate the body’s functions and to diagnose and treat disease, ailments, and injuries. The radioactive tracer is administered through an IV in the form of a dye, which then moves around the patient’s body and helps doctors identify suspicious areas.

What are the benefits of nuclear imaging?

The main advantage of a nuclear medicine examination lies in its ability to create extremely detailed images and obtain even more useful information about the function of the organs being scanned than a traditional non-nuclear procedure would.

What happens during a nuclear medicine procedure?

A small amount of the radioactive tracer substance (also known as a contrast dye) is injected into the patient through an IV. The dye then travels through the body and gathers in whatever area of the body is being scanned, allowing a camera to capture detailed images of that area using gamma rays.

Which radiology procedures use nuclear medicine?

The two most common imaging procedures in nuclear medicine are the Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography scan (SPECT) and Positron Emission Tomography (also known as PET scans.

What can be diagnosed with the help of nuclear medicine?

Physicians use nuclear medicine imaging procedures to visualize and diagnose conditions that affect the structure and function of an organ, tissue, bone or system within the body such as the heart, lungs, bones, brain, and other systems.

Are there any risks of a nuclear imaging scan?

There’s very little risk when it comes to undergoing a nuclear imaging procedure. The scans are painless, and most are completed very quickly. Allergic reactions to the radioactive tracer dye can occur, but they happen very infrequently.

The emerging method of nuclear medicine is changing the way we are able to diagnose a wide variety of different diseases. If you have questions about nuclear medicine, speak with your doctor for more information.