What Is Nuclear Medicine?
Nuclear medicine is the use of small amounts of radioactive materials (called radiopharmaceuticals) to diagnose and treat diseases. Radiopharmaceuticals are substances that are attracted to specific organs, bones or tissues. These radiopharmaceuticals emit gamma rays that can be detected by special types of cameras. These cameras work together with computers to form imaged s that provide info about the area of the body being scanned.
While X-rays take an image of the body’s anatomy, nuclear medicine shows the organ function and physiology. For example, nuclear cardiology, which involves imaging the heart during vigorous exercise, helps doctors determine the function of the heart muscle.
When Is Nuclear Medicine Used?
Nuclear medicine is typically used to measure or detect a variety of diseases and conditions, such as hyperthyroidism, heart function, orthopedic injuries, blood clots in the liver and lungs, and gall bladder function.
What Happens During a Nuclear Medicine Procedure?
During this procedure, the patient is given a low-level radioactive compound called an isotope that will be injected, inhaled, or swallowed depending on what type of test is being performed. Depending on the exam, the radiologist may ask the patient to return at a later time to give the isotope some time to process in the body.
The organ that is being examined will emit radiation continuously during the exam, which is detected by a special camera and processed through a computer. Patients typically do not experience any side effects or allergic reactions since most of the compounds used in nuclear medicine are naturally-occurring substances in the body. The length of the exam depends on the type being performed. A technologist is available throughout the exam to answer any questions a patient has.
What Are the Benefits and Risks?
Nuclear medicine is a non-invasive procedure. It allows physicians to get medical information that would not be available otherwise, or that would require surgical intervention. It is safe and painless, using very small doses of radioactive materials to diagnose and treat disease. The amount of radiation received from a nuclear medicine procedure is similar to that received during a traditional X-ray exam.