Nuclear medicine

What is nuclear medicine?

ACR Radiology - Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine uses very small amounts of radioactive materials to examine organ function and structure. Nuclear imaging helps physicians diagnose and treat conditions. The radioactive material, or tracer, emits radiation that is detected by a special camera.

These scans are used to diagnose many conditions and diseases. Below are some common tests.

  • Renal scans are used to look at the kidneys. This test helps the doctor see how the kidneys are working and if anything is blocking them.
  • Thyroid scans are used to test thyroid function.
  • Bone scans are used to look for changes in the joints, to detect bone diseases and tumors and to find the cause of bone pain, swelling, fractures, infection and sports injuries.
  • Gallium scans are used to find diseases, tumors and infections.
  • Heart scans are used to find abnormal blood flow to the heart. This test helps the doctor see how well the heart is working and determine the amount of damage to the heart.
  • Brain scans are used to find problems within the brain and how the blood travels to the brain. It is most often used for children with epilepsy.
  • Cystograms are used to look for bladder reflux.

What happens during a nuclear medicine scan? 

A nuclear medicine scan has three parts:

  1. The nuclear material (tracer) is put into the body through an IV or by mouth.
  2. Images are taken.
  3. Images are read by a radiologist.

Results are given to your doctor within 24 hours. The time it takes to get the images may vary from minutes to hours.

Are there any potential side effects?

The risk of side effects is very small. The amount of tracer used depends on the child's weight. This helps ensure the best test without a high level of radiation exposure.

How should my child prepare?

The type of procedure or test being done will determine whether any special preparation is required. Please call the Nuclear Medicine Department at (414) 266-3606 if you have questions.

How can I help my child?

We offer many comfort measures to help your child through the exam. Many of the nuclear medicine scans require a shot. You may wish to ask for numbing cream before the shot is given. Please arrive 30 minutes early so the technologist can put the cream on. All of our exam rooms have CD players, DVD players and cable TV. We offer a library of books, music and videos. A child life specialist can help distract your child. Feel free to bring music (CD or iPod), DVDs, books and movies that may help your child. We also urge you to talk with your child before the exam so he or she knows what will happen.

How do I get results?

The radiologist will look at the images after your child leaves the department. The results are sent to the doctor who asked for the test within 24 hours.