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Nuclear medicine is a branch of medical imaging that uses small amounts of radioactive material to diagnose or treat a variety of diseases, including many types of cancers, heart disease and certain other abnormalities within the body.
Nuclear medicine or radionuclide imaging procedures are noninvasive. These tests use radioactive materials called radiopharmaceuticals or radiotracers to generate images demonstrating both the anatomy of the body as well as some functions. The includes the function of the kidneys, thyroid, heart or bones.
The amount of radiation from diagnostic nuclear medicine procedures is kept within a safe limit and follows the "ALARA" (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) principle. The radiation dose from nuclear medicine imaging varies greatly depending on the type of study. The effective radiation dose can be lower than or comparable to the annual background radiation dose. It can also be in the range or higher than the radiation dose from an abdomen/pelvis CT scan.
Some nuclear medicine procedures require special patient preparation before the study to obtain the most accurate result. Pre-imaging preparations may include dietary preparation or the withholding of certain medications. Patients will be informed at the time of booking the requirements of their particular scan.
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Depending on the type of nuclear medicine exam you are undergoing, the radiotracer is either injected into a vein, swallowed or inhaled as a gas and eventually accumulates in the organ or area of your body being examined, where it gives off energy in the form of gamma rays. This energy is detected by a device called a gamma camera.
Nuclear medicine imaging scans are performed to: