What is Nuclear Medicine?
Nuclear medicine uses radioactive materials to help diagnose and treat a wide variety of diseases and disorders. It provides unique information about the human body and its health.
Why is Nuclear Medicine Important?
Nuclear Medicine helps physicians diagnose disease earlier to make treatment more effective. It's the best early warning system for certain kinds of heart disease, thyroid disease, tumors, bone changes, etc.
How Does Nuclear Medicine Work?
The Patient is given a radioactive compound which is injected, swallowed or inhaled. Different compounds are used to study different parts of the body.
The compound travels through the body, giving off gamma rays (invisible radiation). The gamma rays show the location of the compound in the body.
Special equipment detects the gamma rays and records them as flashes of light. These are used to create pictures of the part of the body being studied. A computer may help make images easier to interpret.
The results are interpreted by a nuclear medicine physician and the patient's physician.
What are some common Nuclear Medicine procedures?
- Brain Scans - used to investigate blood circulation and problems such as brain infection, stroke or tumor.
- Thyroid Uptakes and Scans - used to diagnose disorders of the thyroid gland, the "thermostat" that speeds up or slows down most body functions.
- Lung Scans - used most commonly to detect blood clots in the lungs by injecting a radioactive compound which is carried by the blood to the lungs.
- Cardiac Imaging - used for a variety of functions: to study blood flow to the heart (coronary artery disease), to check heart function, diagnose a recent heart attack, etc.
- Liver and Gallbladder Imaging - used to help diagnose liver disorders, such as cirrhosis or tumors, and to diagnose gallbladder disease.
- Bone Scans - used to detect areas of bone growth, fractures, tumors, infection of the bone, etc.
What about safety?
Every precaution is taken, and exposure to radiation is:
- Low - Only tiny quantities are used for diagnosis.
- Short - The compounds lose most of their radioactivity in hours or days. They are usually quickly eliminated from the body.
- Carefully Controlled - Facilities, equipment and materials meet strict safety standards.
Note: Some procedures are restricted during pregnancy and breast-feeding because a safe dose for the mother may be too high for the baby. And, there may be some risk involved with any procedure that exposes you to radiation.
Ask the member of the nuclear medicine team if you have any doubts or worries. Their job is to help you.