Nuclear Medicine

What is Nuclear Medicine?

Nuclear Medicine is the branch of medical imaging that uses special radio-active materials (radiotracers) to enable doctors to diagnose various conditions.


In most cases no preparation is required. When you make your appointment the nuclear medicine technologist will discuss any preparation necessary. If you are breast feeding, pregnant or possibly pregnant, you should let the nuclear medicine technologist know as this may influence the timing and type of test recommended. In addition, certain drugs may alter the results of a test and may have to be stopped for a few days prior to the examination. This applies particularly to scanning of the kidneys, thyroid gland, and heart. Again, this would be discussed at the time of making your appointment.

Procedure - how does it work?

You will be given a small dose of radiopharmaceutical. The specific substance and the method of its delivery (whether it be by injection into a vein, through a breathing apparatus or by mouth) depends on which particular nuclear medicine test you are having.

The substance administered will go to a specific organ or part of the body (e.g., liver or bone). Some time after administration of the radiopharmaceutical, a device called a gamma camera will be placed near your body next to the organ being examined. The exact timing of this depends on the particular test. For example, the thyroid gland is scanned almost immediately after administration of the substance, whereas for a bone scan you will be asked to return approximately 3 hours after injection during which time the radiopharmaceutical will have been taken up by the bones.

Are there any side effects?

The injection does not hurt and there is no iodine in it so you should not have any flushing or “funny” feelings. Side effects such as nausea, vomiting or a rash are very rare, occurring in approximately 1 in 10,000 people.

After the procedure you are able to drive a car and eat and drink normally.

Does it matter if I am pregnant or breastfeeding?

Yes. If there is a possibility of pregnancy we prefer to delay the test unless it is absolutely necessary.

Some of the tests may need to be changed if you are breastfeeding.

Please tell us when you make your booking and we will discuss it with you.

How long will I have the radiotracer in me?

The chemicals break down by themselves in a short time. Most are undetectable within 24-36 hours.

The total x-ray dose is similar or often much less than ordinary x-ray studies.

How long will the procedure take?

This also varies from scan to scan. Normally there is a delay between the injection and the scan that can range from several minutes to several hours and occasionally to several days.

For a bone scan, you have an injection in the morning and then are asked to come back 3 hours later for the scan.

The radiologist will then examine the films and send a report to your doctor.

Please bring any previous x-rays with you on the day of your examination.