Your doctor has requested that you have a special nuclear study done. It is important that you understand what this procedure is and why it is being done. Terms pertaining to nuclear procedures, and the questions of some of the most frequently asked questions about nuclear studies are contained in this guide.

What is Nuclear Medicine?

Nuclear medicine is a branch of radiology that deals with the use of radioactive materials (radioisotopes) in medical diagnosis and treatment. 

What is Nuclear Study?

A nuclear study is the technique of studying normal functional processes of the body by measuring the amount of emitted radiation from a radioisotope. 

What is a radioactive isotope (Radioisotope)?

A radioisotope is used in two different ways. The first manner in which it is used is for its radiation effect (diagnostic and therapeutic). The second manner in which it is used is as a tracer element added to a stable form of a compound to follow the course of the compound in a particular sequence of reactions (physiologic process) in the body. 


In a few of the nuclear studies, the radioisotope is given in advance of the study. A small needle will be placed in your vein and the radioisotope injected through the needle. The needle is then removed. In some hospitals, you will be asked to put on a hospital gown or this procedure may be done on an outpatient basis. 

Where will the nuclear study be done?  

The nuclear study will be done in the nuclear medicine department. At MMH, the nuclear medicine department is located on the second level in the Specialty Clinics. 

Who will do the study?

Nuclear studies, like many other procedures, utilize the team approach. The team members are highly trained nuclear technologists and a physician who specializes in radiation and radioactive materials used for medical diagnosis. 

How is the nuclear study done?

You will be taken to the nuclear medicine department. There you will be helped onto a table and made as comfortable as possible. If the radioisotope has not already been given, it will be at this time. A camera or scanner will be positioned over the area to be studied. The nuclear technologist may ask you to move from side to side, but other than positioning, you will lie still for most of the study. You will feel no discomfort. This is similar to having an x-ray or your picture taken. In a few nuclear studies, you will be asked to do specific functions. For example, in pulmonary perfusion studies you will be asked to breathe into a bag. 

How long will the nuclear studies take?

The time will vary with the type of study you are having done. Allow a least an hour to three hours. Example: Bone scan – three hours. 

Does the radioisotope make me radioactive?

The answer to this question would have to be yes, but in a very limited manner. The radioisotope given to you for this procedure has a very short life span and is not very concentrated or strong. 

How long will the radioisotope last in my body?

This again will depend on what type of radioisotope was used. Most of the radioisotopes have short half lives, which means that the radiation level given off by the radioisotope drops very quickly. 

Will the radiation hurt me?  

No! The dosages of the radioisotopes are carefully computed so that they will not be harmful to you. 

When will I know the results?

Your physician will discuss the results from the nuclear study with you and your family when they are received from the nuclear medicine department. 

Are there any complications or side effects?