Nuclear medicine involves the use of small amounts of radioactive materials (or tracers) to help diagnose and treat a variety of diseases. Nuclear medicine determines the cause of the medical problem based on the function of the organ, tissue or bone. This is how nuclear medicine differs from an x-ray, ultrasound or any other diagnostic test that determines the presence of disease based on structural appearance. The Nuclear Medicine Department at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital is an accredited facility of the American College of Radiology (ACR).

Is nuclear medicine safe?

Nuclear medicine procedures are among the safest diagnostic imaging exams available. A patient only receives an extremely small amount of a radiopharmaceutical, just enough to provide sufficient diagnostic information. In fact, the amount of radiation from a nuclear medicine procedure is comparable to, or often times less than, that of a diagnostic x-ray.

Although we don’t think much about it, everyone is continually exposed to radiation from natural and manmade sources. For most people, natural background radiation from space, rocks, soil, and even carbon and potassium atoms in his or her own body, accounts for 85 percent of their annual exposure. Additional exposure is received from consumer products such as household smoke detectors, color television sets, and luminous dial clocks. The remainder is from x-rays and radioactive materials used for medical diagnosis and therapy. With most nuclear medicine procedures, the patient receives about the same amount of radiation as that acquired in a few months of normal living.

Because of their special training, the nuclear medicine physician is able to select the most appropriate examination for the patient’s particular medical problem, thereby avoiding any unnecessary radiation exposure.

What are the benefits of nuclear medicine?

Nuclear medicine is a safe, painless, and cost-effective way of gathering information that may otherwise be unavailable or require a more expensive and risky diagnostic test. One unique aspect of a nuclear medicine test is its extreme sensitivity to abnormalities in an organ’s structure or function. As an integral part of patient care, nuclear medicine is used in the diagnosis, management, treatment and prevention of serious disease. Nuclear medicine imaging procedures often identify abnormalities very early in the progression of a disease long before some medical problems are apparent with other diagnostic tests. This early detection allows a disease to be treated early in its course when there may be a better prognosis.

Although nuclear medicine is commonly used for diagnostic purposes, it also has valuable therapeutic applications such as treatment of hyperthyroidism, thyroid cancer, blood imbalances, and any bony pain from certain types of cancer.

How should I prepare for the procedure?

  • No special preparation is required for scans involving the bones, inflammatory, lymphatic, brain, renal and pulmonary systems.
  • Scans involving the gastrointestinal system require fasting at least 4 hours. Some scans require pre-medicating as a preparation.
  • Cardiac exams involve fasting for at least 4 hours before the exam and stress/persantine tests require no caffeine for 24 hours prior to the scan.
  • Thyroid scans may require cessation of certain medications prior to the scan.