diagnostic imaging

Nuclear Medicine

Diagnostic testing using radioactive substances

Using radioactive substances, Adventist Health Sonora imaging professionals are able to detect and diagnose disease. There are several different kinds of nuclear medicine tests. The test you are administered will depend on the symptoms you display and the area of concern.

How is a nuclear medicine exam performed?

Before your scan, you will either receive an injection of, swallow or inhale a small amount of radioactive material tagged to a chemical compound; we call these radiopharmaceuticals. Depending on your specific test, you may need to wait a few minutes or a few hours for the radiopharmaceutical to travel through your body before images can be taken.

When it’s time to take the images, you will be positioned on an examination table. A scanner will take a series of images. For some exams the machine will rotate around you; other exams may require you to change positions between images. Nuclear medicine exams can take as little as a half-hour to complete. However, some can take an hour or more.

How to prepare for your exam

You should receive specific instructions on how to prepare for your procedure when you are scheduled for your exam. Follow the instructions carefully to help your doctor get the best, most accurate images.

If you have questions or do not receive instructions for preparing for your test, please call our imaging department at (855) 551-8743. Ask to speak to a nuclear medicine technologist, and we can advise you.

Examples of common nuclear medicine tests include:

  • Nuclear stress testing: You may be given a nuclear stress test if your doctor suspects you have coronary artery disease or if a routine stress test didn’t pinpoint the cause of symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath. A nuclear stress test may also be used to guide your treatment if you’ve been diagnosed with a heart condition. A nuclear stress test measures blood flow to your heart. The test provides images that can show areas of low blood flow through the heart and damaged heart muscle. The test usually involves taking two sets of images of your heart — one while you are at rest and another after your heart is stressed, either by exercise or medication.
  • Hepatobiliary scans (HIDA scans): Hepatobiliary scans are often ordered to evaluate the function of the gallbladder and to access the bile ducts. After an injection of radioactive material, images are taken for 60 to 90 minutes. While imaging, you may be given a medication that contracts the gallbladder to evaluate the rate at which bile is released from your gallbladder.
  • Bone scans: Bone scans are used to identify abnormal areas within the bones or joints. A small amount of radioactive material is injected into the vein and images are taken three to four hours after the injection.
  • Treatment of disease: Nuclear medicine can also be used to treat some conditions such as overactive thyroid gland and some forms of cancer.

Safety concerns

Nuclear medicine procedures are among the safest diagnostic imaging exams available. A patient receives an extremely small amount of 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.

For additional information regarding dose estimates for nuclear medicine procedures, we recommend these patient advocacy sites:

To schedule your diagnostic exam, call us at (209) 536-3437.
Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.