Nuclear medicine is a subspecialty within the field of radiology that uses very small amounts of radioactive material to diagnose or treat disease and other abnormalities within the body. Nuclear medicine offers details on both the structure and function of organs and other internal body parts. Pediatric nuclear medicine imaging can be performed to diagnose childhood disorders that are congenital or that develop during childhood.
Depending on the type of nuclear medicine exam you are undergoing, the radiotracer is injected into a vein, swallowed by mouth or inhaled as a gas which eventually collects in the area of the body being examined where it gives off energy called gamma rays. These gamma rays are detected by a gamma camera or a PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scanner. A nearby computer creates images from the data obtained by the camera or scanner. PET does not produce clear structural images but shows the level of chemical activity in your body.
It can take several seconds or several days for the radiotracer to travel through your body and accumulate in the area being studied, so imaging may be done immediately, a few hours after you’ve received the radioactive material, or even several days later. When it is time for the imaging to begin, the gamma camera will take a series of images. It may rotate around you or stay in one position. While it is taking pictures, you will need to remain still.
The length of time for nuclear medicine procedures varies greatly, depending on the type of exam. Through the natural process of radioactive decay, the small amount of radiotracer in your body will lose its radioactivity over time. You should drink plenty of water to help flush the radioactive material out of your body.