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Nuclear medicine is a branch of medical imaging that safely uses small amounts of radioactive material to diagnose a variety of diseases, including many types of cancers, heart disease and certain other abnormalities within the body.
Depending on the type of nuclear medicine exam you are undergoing, the radiotracer is either injected into a vein, swallowed, inhaled as a gas, or injected intrathecally, and eventually accumulates in the organ or area of your body being examined, where it gives off energy in the form of gamma rays.
This energy is detected by a device called a gamma camera. This camera works together with a computer to measure the amount of radiotracer in the area of interest, and to produce special pictures offering details on both the structure and function of organs and tissues.
Nuclear medicine uses low dose isotopes with short half-lives to make the exams as safe as possible. There is always a risk with exposure to radiation, however, the benefit of the information provided is believed to outweigh the risks associated with having a radiology procedure. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consult with their physician before undergoing a nuclear medicine exam.
How to prepare for a nuclear medicine exam varies from one exam to another. Patients are urged to consult their primary physician for directions about how to prepare for their specific procedure.