Nuclear medicine is a subspecialty within the field of medical imaging. It comprises diagnostic examinations that result in images of body anatomy and function. The images are developed based on the detection of energy emitted from a radioactive substance given to the patient, either intravenously or by mouth. Generally, radiation to the patient is similar to that resulting from standard X-ray examinations.
The patient is given a small dose of radioactive material, usually intravenously but sometimes orally, that localizes in specific body organ systems. This compound, called a radiopharmaceutical agent or tracer, eventually collects in the organ and gives off energy as gamma rays. The gamma camera detects the rays and works with a computer to produce images and measurements of organs and tissues.
While the images are being obtained, the patient must remain as still as possible. This is especially true when a series of images is obtained to show how an organ functions over time.
A physician who has specialized training in nuclear medicine will interpret the images and forward a report to your physician. It usually takes about a day to interpret images, report and deliver the results.