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- Nuclear medicine is a branch of medical imaging that uses small amounts of radioactive material to diagnose and determine the severity of or treat a variety of diseases, including many types of cancers, heart disease, gastrointestinal, endocrine, neurological disorders and other abnormalities within the body.
People also ask
What is nuclear medicine testing?
How much does a nuclear stress test cost?
What is a nuclear medicine heart test?
What are the results of a nuclear stress test?
- Why It's Done
- What You Can Expect
A nuclear stress test uses radioactive dye and an imaging machine to create pictures showing the blood flow to your heart. The test measures blood flow while you are at rest and are exerting yourself, showing areas with poor blood flow or damage in your heart. The test usually involves injecting radioactive dye, then taking two sets of images of your heart — one while you're at rest and another after exertion. A nuclear stress test is one of several types of stress tests that may be performed alone or in combination. Compared with an exercise stress test, a nuclear stress test can help better determine your risk of a heart attack or other cardiac event if your doctor knows or suspects that you have coronary artery disease.
You may need a nuclear stress test if a routine stress test didn't pinpoint the cause of symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath. A nuclear stress test may also be used to guide your treatment if you've been diagnosed with a heart condition. Your doctor may recommend a nuclear stress test to: 1. Diagnose coronary artery disease. Your coronary arteries are the major blood vessels that supply your heart with blood, oxygen and nutrients. Coronary artery disease develops when these arteries become damaged or diseased — usually due to a buildup of deposits containing cholesterol and other substances (plaques). If you have symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath, a nuclear stress test can help determine if you have coronary artery disease and how severe the condition is. 2. Guide treatment of heart disorders.If you've been diagnosed with coronary artery disease, a nuclear stress test can help your doctor find out how well treatment is working. It may also be used to...
A nuclear stress test is generally safe, and complications are rare. As with any medical procedure, there is a risk of complications, including: 1. Allergic reaction.Though rare, you could be allergic to the radioactive dye that's injected during a nuclear stress test. 2. Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias).Arrhythmias brought on during a stress test usually go away shortly after you stop exercising or the medication wears off. Life-threatening arrhythmias are rare. 3. Heart attack (myocardial infarction).Although extremely rare, it's possible that a nuclear stress test could cause a heart attack. 4. Dizziness or chest pain.These symptoms can occur during a stress test. Other possible signs and symptoms include nausea, shakiness, headache, flushing, shortness of breath and anxiety. These signs and symptoms are usually mild and brief, but tell your doctor if they occur. 5. Low blood pressure.Blood pressure may drop during or immediately after exercise, possibly causing you to feel d...
A nuclear stress test may be performed in combination with an exercise stress test, in which you walk on a treadmill. If you aren't able to exercise, you'll receive a drug through an IV that mimics exercise by increasing blood flow to your heart. A nuclear stress test can take two or more hours, depending on the radioactive material and imaging tests used.
Your doctor will discuss your nuclear stress test results with you. Your results could show: 1. Normal blood flow during exercise and rest.You may not need further tests. 2. Normal blood flow during rest, but not during exercise.Part of your heart isn't receiving enough blood when you're exerting yourself. This might mean that you have one or more blocked arteries (coronary artery disease). 3. Low blood flow during rest and exercise.Part of your heart isn't getting enough blood at all times, which could be due to severe coronary artery disease or a previous heart attack. 4. Lack of radioactive dye in parts of your heart.Areas of your heart that don't show the radioactive dye have tissue damage from a heart attack. If you don't have enough blood flow through your heart, you may need to undergo coronary angiography. This test looks directly at the blood vessels supplying your heart. If you have severe blockages, you may need a coronary intervention (angioplasty and stent placement) or...
- Whole body bone scan – used to identify metastatic cancer involving the bone.
- 3 phase bone scan – used to identify fractures.
- Thyroid uptake scan – used to visualize the thyroid gland when disease of the thyroid is suspected.
- Renal scan – used to indicate the perfusion, function, and structure of the kidneys. It is also used to...
- What Do They Show?
- How Do They Work?
- How Do I Get Ready For The Test?
- What Is It Like Having The Test?
- How Long Does It take?
- What Are The Possible Complications?
- What Else Should I Know About These Tests?
Nuclear scans make pictures based on the body’s chemistry (like metabolism) rather than on physical shapes and forms (as is the case with other imaging tests). These scans use liquid substances called radionuclides (also called tracers or radiopharmaceuticals) that release low levels of radiation. Body tissues affected by certain diseases, such as cancer, may absorb more or less of the tracer than normal tissues. Special cameras pick up the pattern of radioactivity to create pictures that show where the tracer travels and where it collects. If cancer is present, the tumor may show up on the picture as a “hot spot” – an area of increased cell activity and tracer uptake. Depending on the type of scan done, the tumor might instead be a “cold spot” – a site of decreased uptake (and less cell activity). Nuclear scans may not find very small tumors, and cannot always tell whether a tumor is really cancer. These scans can show some internal organ and tissue problems better than other imagi...
In most cases you’re given a tracer (or radionuclide) that sends out small doses of radiation. Some are swallowed while others are put into a vein or inhaled as a gas. Over time the tracer collects in the part of the body that’s being tested. This can take from a few seconds to several days. The collected tracer sends out gamma rays that are picked up by a special camera (a gamma camera,rectilinear scanner, or scintiscan). The signals are processed by a computer, which turns them into 2- or 3-dimensional (3-D) pictures, sometimes with color added for extra clarity. A radiologist or a doctor who specializes in nuclear medicine interprets the pictures and sends a report to your doctor. These nuclear medicine scans are commonly used for cancer: Bone scans:Bone scans look for cancers that may have spread (metastasized) from other places to the bones. They can often find bone changes much earlier than regular x-rays. The tracer collects in the bone over a few hours, then the scans are do...
The steps needed to prepare for a nuclear medicine scan depend on the type of test and the tissue that will be studied. Some scans require that you don’t eat or drink for 2 to 12 hours before the test. For others, you may be asked to take a laxative or use an enema. Be sure your doctor or nurse knows everything you take, even over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and herbs. You may need to avoid some medicines (prescription and over-the-counter) before the test. Your health care team will give you instructions. Reactions to the radioactive material are very rare. Still, be sure to tell your doctor about any allergies and if you’ve had problems with nuclear medicine scans in the past. You may get the radioactive material anywhere from a few minutes to many hours before the test. For example, in a bone scan, the tracer is put into a vein in your arm about 2 hours before the test begins. For gallium scans, the tracer is given a few days before the test.
In most cases you will be given a tracer that sends out small doses of radiation. If it’s put into your blood, a needle will be used to put it into a vein in your hand or arm. Because of the special materials and equipment needed, these scans are usually done in the radiology or nuclear medicine department of a hospital. You might be able to wear your own clothing or you might be given a gown to wear during the test. You’ll need to remove all jewelry or metal items that could interfere with the scans. The scanner has a hole in the middle and looks like a large doughnut. You lie on a padded table which moves back and forth through the hole in the scanner. You will need to be very still while the scans are done. The technician may ask you to change positions to allow different views to be taken. The table may become uncomfortable after a while. For a thyroid scan, you may sit in a chair that faces the scanner. The scanner is set up so that it’s right in front of your neck and your chi...
A nuclear scan usually takes about 30 to 60 minutes, plus the waiting time after the radioactive material is given. For bone scans, the material takes 2 to 3 hours to be absorbed. During this time, you’ll stay in the radiology clinic and will be asked to drink a lot of water to help flush out any tracer that doesn’t collect in the bones. The scan itself takes another hour or so. PET scanstake 20 to 30 minutes, but you must wait about an hour while the tracer collects in the organ being studied. For a thyroid scan, you take the radioactive tracer as a liquid or pill about 24 hours before the scan. The scan takes less than 30 minutes. MUGA scanscan take up to 3 hours, depending on how many pictures are needed. Gallium scanstake several days between the injection and the actual scan. Sometimes people are scanned more than once after the injection. The scan takes 30 to 60 minutes. Results of nuclear scans are usually available within a few days.
For the most part, nuclear scans are safe tests. The doses of radiation are very small, and the radionuclides have a low risk of being toxic or causing an allergic reaction. Some people may have pain or swelling at the site where the material is injected into a vein. Rarely, some people will develop a fever or allergic reaction when given a monoclonal antibody.The radiation exposure from a nuclear scan comes from the radionuclides used – the scanner itself does not put out radiation. The radioactive material in your body will naturally decay and lose its...You will be asked to drink a lot of water to flush out the radioactive material.To reduce the risk of being exposed to radioactive material in your urine after a scan, you should put the lid down and flush the toilet right after you use it.Nuclear scans are rarely recommended for pregnant women, so let your doctor know if you are or might be pregnant.
Nuclear Medicine Imaging Nuclear imaging produces images by detecting radiation from different parts of the body after a radioactive tracer material is administered. The images are recorded on computer and on film. Different types of nuclear imaging tests have different preparation instructions.
A nuclear medicine scan uses small amounts of radiation to create pictures of tissues, bones, and organs inside the body. The radioactive material collects in certain areas of your body, and...
What is nuclear medicine? Renal scans. . These are used to examine the kidneys and to find any abnormalities. These include abnormal function or... Thyroid scans. . These are used to evaluate thyroid function or to better evaluate a thyroid nodule or mass. Bone scans. . These are used to evaluate ...
This test requires no preparation. The patient comes in for an injection and returns 2 to 3 hours later for a scan that takes 20 to 30 minutes For certain conditions doctors will prescribe this test along with a CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis. In this case, you will have the CT right after your nuclear medicine injection.
- Purpose of Test
- Risks and Contraindications
- Before The Test
- During The Test
- After The Test
- Interpreting Results
- Frequently Asked Questions
- A Word from Verywell
The nuclear stress test is most often performed to help diagnose whether coronary artery disease is the cause of unexplained symptoms, especially episodes of chest pain or dyspnea. If coronary artery blockages are present, this test can also help the doctor judge the severity of the blockages.1 In people who are already known to have coronary artery disease, the nuclear stress test is often also quite helpful in developing an optimal treatment plan. People who are being treated for coronary artery disease, whether with medication or a stent, will often have nuclear stress testing both to help judge the effectiveness of the therapy, and to get the information needed to provide objective advice about daily activities and exercise. What the Test Assesses The idea of nuclear stress testing is to create two images of how blood is being distributed to the cardiac muscle—one during rest, and one during exercise. Normally, the blood should be evenly distributed to the heart muscle both at...
When it is performed by experienced personnel, the nuclear stress test is quite safe. Still, there are known risks, which include:2 1. Cardiac arrhythmias: Exercise-induced heart arrhythmiasmay occur. These are rarely dangerous, and almost always disappear when the exercise stops. Furthermore, while these arrhythmias are indeed considered a risk of stress testing, detecting them also has diagnostic value. Finally, if potentially dangerous arrhythmias are produced by modest exercise, it is better to find out about them in a controlled environment than out on the street. 2. Chest pain, dizziness, or other symptoms: In people with significant coronary artery disease, modest amounts of exercise can produce symptoms associated with cardiac ischemia(that is, insufficient blood flow to the heart muscle). Again, while symptoms like these are considered a risk of this test, it is often useful to reproduce such exercise-associated symptoms during the test, in order to determine whether they...
Knowing these details can help ease any anxiety you have about this test. Timing and Location Your doctor will discuss with you when and where the test will be performed. Most nuclear stress tests are performed in a hospital outpatient area. You will probably be asked to show up at least 30 minutes before the scheduled test and can expect to be there for at least four hours. What to Wear Since you will be probably walking on a treadmill or riding an exercise bike, you should bring comfortable, loose-fitting clothing and comfortable shoes. Many people will bring gym clothing with them, along with walking or running shoes. Most testing facilities offer a convenient place to change out of (and back into) your street clothing. Food and Drink You will be asked to avoid food, drink, and smoking for 4 to 6 hours before your test. It is also important to avoid caffeine for at least 24 hours before the test. Medications You should ask your doctor which of your prescription medications you sh...
Pre-Test After you arrive for testing, you will be interviewed by one of the healthcare team to see whether your symptoms or medical condition has changed since you last saw your doctor, and you will have a quick physical exam. You will also be instructed once again as to what to expect during the test and will be given an opportunity to ask any additional questions you may have. Throughout the Test All testing should be directly supervised by a physician, and the doctor conducting the test should clearly identify him/herself. To make the resting cardiac image, a technician will insert an intravenous line into one of your veins, and a small amount of the radioactive tracer will be injected. After about 20 minutes, you will be lying down under a gamma camera for 15 to 20 minutes while an image is made that shows how blood is being distributed to your heart muscle. While you are under the gamma camera, you will need to keep your arms up above your head, and you will have to lie still....
Most people are instructed to resume their normal meals, medications, and activities immediately after the study is ended. The amount of radiation you receive with nuclear stress testing is considered very small, and there are no special precautions you will need to take in this regard. Testing centers vary on how the results of nuclear stress testing are communicated to the patient. Most laboratories will give you some indication of the results right away, at least to the extent of telling you whether the study has shown findings of immediate concern. If so, you will be given advice on what to do next. Most often, however, the test is not immediately alarming, and formal results will not be available until the images are officially reviewed by a cardiologist. In this case, you will be instructed to contact your referring doctor for the results and to discuss what, if anything, should be the next steps. Managing Side Effects Except for a bit of fatigue from performing the exercise,...
The nuclear stress test is aimed at measuring whether blood flow to all areas of the heart muscle is sufficient, both during rest and during exercise. While the interpretation of the resting and exercise images has to be individualized, and while you will need to talk to your own doctor about the specific findings of the test in your own case, in general, the results of a nuclear stress test fall into three categories. 1. Both the resting and exercise cardiac images are normal. This result suggests, first, that no permanent heart damage from a prior heart attack is detectable (because the resting scan is normal); and second, that no area of heart muscle is being deprived of blood flow during exercise (because the exercise scan is normal). This result would strongly suggest that no significant coronary artery blockages are present. Based on these results, your doctor will suggest which next steps, if any, are recommended. If your nuclear stress test is normal (in which case, congratu...
Can I take my regular medications before a nuclear stress test?
Not unless your doctor okays it. You may need to stop taking certain medications prior to the test.6 For instance, your doctor may tell you not to take beta blockers, nitroglycerin, or heart medications for 24 hours before the test. You may also need to stop aspirin or blood thinnersand asthma medications 48 hours before. Diabetes medication may also be restricted. Review all your medications with your doctor beforehand.
Is the radiation in a nuclear stress test safe?
The dosage should be safe. However, because there is direct exposure to radiation, there is a risk of cancer for anyone who undergoes a nuclear stress test. The American Heart Association and other organizations have created guidelines to help doctors determine if the test is medically necessary, which means that the risk of cancer is outweighed by the benefit you can gain from having a potential heart problem properly diagnosed.7
How long will radioactivity from a nuclear stress test stay in my system?
Within a day, the radiotracer will lose its radioactivity through natural decay. You should pass it via urine or stool, but drinking water can help wash it out.8
Nuclear stress testing is a generally safe and effective noninvasive method of assessing whether significant blockages in the coronary arteries are present and whether such blockages are responsible for symptoms such as chest pain, or have already produced permanent heart muscle damage. This kind of testing has proven to be quite valuable in diagnosing coronary artery disease, and in helping to guide its treatment.