Conventional Nuclear Medicine Diagnostics

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Conventional Nuclear Medicine Diagnostics
Conventional Nuclear Medicine Diagnostics

Conventional nuclear medicine diagnostics

Nuclear medicine is the use of radioactivity in medicine. Certain atomic nuclei are artificially modified in such a way that they emit radioactive radiation and become isotopes. These isotopes can be introduced into the human body via the blood, respiratory or digestive tract and take part in metabolic processes without influencing them…


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  • What preparations are necessary for the examination?
  • How is the examination performed?
  • Radiation Exposure, Side Effects & Complications
  • Whom can I ask?
  • How are the costs going to be covered?

With the help of nuclear medicine, metabolic processes in the body can be mapped and the functions of the various organ systems checked. The nuclear medicine examinations are called scintigraphies. While conventional X-ray examinations - but also CT and MRT - provide images of the human body, nuclear medicine can map the functions of the organs and metabolic processes in the body. These methods therefore complement each other in diagnostics.

What preparations are necessary for the examination?

For certain nuclear medicine examinations - for example when taking pictures of the digestive tract - it is necessary for the patient to stay fasted or to stop certain medications beforehand. It may also be necessary to clean the intestines, as is done, for example, during a colonoscopy. Your attending doctor will inform you about any preparatory measures.

Before the examination, you should inform your doctor about the following circumstances:

  • Pregnancy,
  • Pregnancy that cannot be ruled out with certainty,
  • Lactation.

Note In these cases no radioactive substance may be administered (unless there are serious reasons). In particularly urgent cases, during nuclear medicine examinations during breastfeeding, breast milk must be pumped out and disposed of for a certain time interval.

How is the examination performed?

First of all, depending on the organ (system) to be examined, the doctor selects a radioactively marked substance - the so-called radiopharmaceutical. This substance is prepared by the radiology technologist shortly before the examination. The radiation dose is calculated based on body weight. In most cases, the radiopharmaceutical will be injected into a vein. Other access routes are required for certain examinations, for example:

  • In order to assess the absorption of trace elements (such as iodine in the thyroid examination), the radioactive substances can be taken in the form of a capsule or as a liquid (oral administration).
  • In lung scintigraphy, the finest radioactive particles are inhaled through a mask to assess the ventilation of the lungs.
  • When examining the lymphatic system, the radiopharmaceutical is injected directly into or under the skin.

In the body, the radiopharmaceutical is distributed in the desired organ (system) depending on its properties and, like the body's own substances, takes part in the respective metabolic processes. The radiation emitted by the radioactive substance (gamma radiation) can be captured by a special gamma camera, which generates a computer-aided functional image of the desired organ (system).

For specific questions, cross-sectional images of the regions concerned can also be made (single-photon emission computed tomography, SPECT). With the help of combination devices (gamma camera and computer tomograph), the data obtained can be merged and pathological changes can be better localized.

Depending on the radiopharmaceutical or organ to be examined, a time interval of a few seconds up to several hours is required between the administration of the radioactive substance and the intake. The recordings themselves only take a few minutes. During the recording process, it is necessary to lie or sit quietly and breathe evenly. Sedation or short anesthesia is therefore often required in children.

Radiation Exposure, Side Effects & Complications

In nuclear medicine, radioactive substances are brought into the human body. The required quantities are extremely small and the radiation duration of the substances is short, so that there is only a low level of radiation exposure for the organism. The radiation doses are comparable to an X-ray examination or are usually significantly lower. Therefore, nuclear medicine examinations can also be carried out on infants and young children. The frequency of measurements does not increase the radiation dose because the gamma camera itself does not emit any radiation, but only records the radiation emitted by the body.

Note For safety reasons, the patient should keep their distance from pregnant women and small children a few hours after administration of the radiopharmaceutical.

Since the radioactive substances are mainly excreted through the bladder, the patient should drink a lot after the injection of the radiopharmaceutical and empty the bladder frequently in order to keep the dose to the body low.

As with any other injection, very rarely injuries to blood vessels or nerves and infections occur. Side effects and allergic reactions (such as those that can occur when using X-ray contrast media) are not known.

Whom can I ask?

A scintigraphy can be carried out in special institutes by resident specialists for nuclear medicine or in hospitals with a nuclear medicine department. A referral from your treating doctor is required.

The examination itself is carried out by a radiology technologist. If the radiopharmaceutical is administered via the bloodstream, a venous access is first pierced by a doctor and then the radioactive substance is administered. After the images have been created, the findings are made by the specialist in nuclear medicine.

  • You can find specialists in nuclear medicine in your area under Services: Doctor search
  • You can find hospitals (with a nuclear medicine department) in your area under Clinic search

How are the costs going to be covered?

You need a doctor's referral for a scintigraphy. This is valid for one month from the date of issue. The costs of a scintigraphy are covered by your health insurance provider.

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