What is Nuclear Medicine?
Nuclear medicine is a branch of medical imaging that helps physicians identify, diagnose, and treat certain conditions by using small amounts of radioactive material. This procedure is especially valuable in pinpointing molecular activity, which enables doctors to judge the severity of a condition. Identifying molecular activity can also show how well a patient is responding to therapeutic interventions.
A typical nuclear medicine imaging procedure:
- Tiny amounts of radioactive materials called ‘radiotracers’ or ‘radiopharmaceuticals’ are either injected directly into the bloodstream, swallowed, or inhaled.
- The radiotracers accumulate in the organ or area which will be examined.
- A special camera or imaging device that can read radioactive emissions is then able to take images of the area, creating pictures and molecular information that physicians can use to make a diagnosis.
In some medical centers, the images from nuclear medicine imaging can be used in conjunction with the results of CT or MRI scans in a process known as ‘image fusion’. Image fusion allows for more precise information for a diagnosis. Scans are noninvasive procedures. Aside from a pinprick you may feel from an injection, they are also painless.
What is Nuclear Medicine Typically Used For?
Nuclear medicine can be used in both a diagnostic and therapeutic capacity. As a diagnostic tool, it can help physicians determine a diagnosis or judge the effectiveness of treatment. As a therapeutic tool, nuclear medicine can treat some cancers and problems with the thyroid, among other conditions.
Some applications of nuclear medicine include:
- Assess heart function damage
- Detect coronary artery disease
- Evaluate treatment options for heart conditions
- Scan lungs for respiratory or blood flow problems
- Evaluate bone fractures or breaks
- Evaluate natural and prosthetic bone joints
- Detect abnormalities in the brain and detect certain diseases
- Identify complications following internal surgery
- Locate the source of infections
- Measure thyroid function
Radiopharmaceuticals Used in Nuclear Medicine
Radiopharmaceuticals, also known as radiotracers, are drugs used in nuclear medicine to highlight internal organs or veins. The radiotracers are comprised of a radioisotope bond to an organic material. The organic molecule is what conveys the radioisotope to the specific organ or area. The radioisotope emits gamma rays that imaging machines can read.
Radiopharmaceuticals can be used for therapeutic or diagnostic purposes. In nuclear medicine, they are used for diagnostic purposes.
Nuclear Medicine Side Effects
Radiotracers are designed to act naturally and in conjunction with the body, minimizing the possibility of side effects. Nuclear medicine is very safe.
You should not experience side effects such as fatigue, dizziness, nausea, or headache. You can leave the doctor’s office and resume your normal activities immediately. Radiation from the isotope typically leaves the body through normal excretion within one day.
What is a Nuclear Cardiology Test?
A nuclear cardiology test, also known as a nuclear heart scan, can provide your physician valuable information about the function and health of your heart.
Two sets of images are usually taken for a nuclear cardiology test. The first is done following a heart stress test – a test where you exercise to get your heart rate up. The second scan is done while your heart is beating normally.
For a nuclear cardiology test, a radiotracer is injected directly into the veins, where it then travels to the heart. A specialized machine is then able to detect the radiation coming from the tracer, and puts together a picture of the heart.
Nuclear heart tests are primarily used:
- To look for damaged heart muscle following a heart attack, injury, infection, or side effect of medication.
- To check how well blood is flowing to the heart muscle.
- To see how well the heart muscle pumps blood to the rest of the body.
Nuclear cardiology is a safe procedure and does not lead to side effects. The only side effect you may feel is a little bit of fatigue following the heart stress test!
Nuclear Medicine at Florida Medical Clinic
Florida Medical Clinic is ICANL-approved (Intersocietal Commission for the Accreditation of Nuclear Medicine Laboratories), which recognizes our services for high-quality nuclear medicine. This procedure is very effective at identifying diseases, obstructions of the organs, and many more medical conditions. At Florida Medical Clinic Nuclear Medicine, we are dedicated to making your nuclear imaging procedure as safe and comfortable as possible.