Memorial Hermann Imaging Centers offer a full range of nuclear medicine studies conducted by certified professionals at convenient locations across the Greater Houston area.
If your doctor has ordered a nuclear medicine exam, you may be unsure of what to expect. To find out more about the procedure, contact us today and our experienced imaging center staff can answer your questions, verify your insurance coverage and schedule your appointment at a time and location that is convenient for you.
Nuclear medicine is a branch of diagnostic imaging that examines the molecular processes in your body to help diagnose conditions like cancer or heart disease as well as disorders of the brain, intestines or endocrine system. By using trace amounts of a radioactive material, a special camera and a sophisticated computer system, nuclear medicine can provide critical information about how your body is functioning—helping you to avoid other forms of testing that might otherwise require surgery or other invasive procedures.
In some cases, nuclear medicine can even be used as targeted therapy to treat conditions such as an overactive thyroid, or certain cancers, like lymphoma.
During a nuclear medicine exam, you will be guided through a three-step process, which includes:
Nuclear medicine can provide many diagnostic benefits depending on the part of your body being scanned. The following are a few of the most common ways nuclear medicine is used to diagnose injuries and disease:
Nuclear medicine also can be an effective method for locating tumors and determining the spread (or staging) of certain cancers without the need for a biopsy. In this case, they are often paired with other imaging techniques such as X-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in an effort to reach a conclusive diagnosis.
Nuclear medicine uses special gamma cameras to detect ionizing radiation coming from a radio drug that has been administered to a patient. By contrast, imaging procedures such as X-ray and computed tomography (CT) obtain images by beaming ionizing radiation through the body and capturing images.
Most imaging procedures produce static images, but images produced through nuclear medicine are in real time, much like an ultrasound. Nuclear medicine also differs in that it detects the presence of disease based on biological changes in tissue rather than changes in a patient’s anatomy.
According to the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI), more than 20 million Americans receive nuclear medicine procedures each year to diagnose and treat a wide variety of conditions and diseases. While these procedures do expose patients to an extremely low dose of non-ionizing radiation, this risk is outweighed by the potentially lifesaving impact of the information they provide—information that would otherwise require exploratory surgery or other more costly and invasive procedures.
At Memorial Hermann, we are required to follow the standards for care set forth by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Initiative to Reduce Unnecessary Radiation Exposure from Medical Imaging, which maintains that nuclear medicine exams must be performed with the lowest acceptable radiation levels for the shortest time necessary.
If you have any questions or concerns about the safety or necessity of a particular nuclear medicine exam, contact your physician or a Memorial Hermann Imaging Center staff member. We will be more than happy to assist you.
In extremely rare cases, some patients have had mild allergic reactions to the chemical makeup of certain radiopharmaceuticals (drugs), such as iodine (used in thyroid scans) and sulfur (used in liver/spleen scans).
To avoid any side effects, inform your referring physician and nuclear technologist, before the exam, of any allergies you may have or any allergic reactions you have experienced in the past. Armed with this information, they can create a custom course of action that best suits your needs.
The following information will provide some background on how to prepare for your nuclear medicine exam, what to expect during the exam and how long it will take to receive your results.
As always, ask your doctor for more specific information before undergoing any medical procedure. In fact, at Memorial Hermann, an order from your healthcare provider is required to schedule an appointment for nuclear medicine.
Preparation for a nuclear medicine exam will depend on the specific type of scan ordered and the part of your body being scanned. Before your exam, you will receive a call from our healthcare team with specific instructions on what to do before and after your exam.
Some scans may require you to fast for several hours beforehand, and you may need to stop taking any medications that could interfere with the intended radiopharmaceutical. Make sure to inform your physician and technologist of any medicines you are currently taking, including vitamins, herbal supplements and caffeine, as these could hinder the scanning process.
You should also inform your physician and technologist if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. You may be advised to pump breast milk and discard it after your exam to help flush the radiopharmaceutical from your system.
When you arrive at a Memorial Hermann Imaging Center for your nuclear medicine exam, you will check in first at the front desk before completing routine billing paperwork in the business office. A nuclear technologist will then bring you to a private exam room where they will review your information, explain how the exam will work and answer any questions you may have.
Depending on the type of exam needed, you may be asked to undress and put on a hospital gown (you will be given privacy for your convenience). If an extremity is being scanned, this may not be necessary. Regardless, we recommend wearing comfortable, loose-fitting clothing and removing jewelry, piercings and other metal objects that may interfere with the exam.
After you are escorted to the exam room, your nuclear technologist will then administer a radiopharmaceutical either intravenously, orally or through respiration. If taken orally, the radiopharmaceutical will have little to no taste. If inhaled, it should feel no different than taking a deep breath and holding it briefly.
Depending on the type of scan being performed, you may be required to wait for some time before the radiopharmaceutical has reached the location in your body to be examined. You will then be asked to lie on an examination table, which will slide into position underneath the gamma camera. This camera will need to be close to your body to achieve the best image resolution possible, and you will be asked to remain very still during the imaging process. If you do not think you can comply with this request, let your technologist know.
The professional staff at Memorial Hermann understand that your time is very important, and we do our best to make sure each exam is quick and thorough. That being said, the length of time required for a nuclear medicine exam varies. Some take only 30 minutes, while others can last longer. Our staff will provide you with an estimate beforehand so you can make any appropriate adjustments to your schedule.
Images from your exam will be sent for immediate analysis, and a full report will be delivered to your primary care physician. This process usually takes 24 hours to complete. Your doctor will schedule a follow-up appointment with you to go over the results.
Memorial Hermann Imaging Centers offer nuclear medicine exams at locations across the Greater Houston area. To schedule your nuclear medicine exam, call (877) 704-8700.
The highly skilled team at Memorial Hermann utilizes the most advanced imaging tools and technology available.
The streamlined processes performed at our imaging centers are designed to maximize your comfort and minimize stress.
Learn how to request a copy of your results for imaging performed at a Memorial Hermann Imaging or Breast Care location.