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  • Frequently Asked Questions about Nuclear Medicine

    • What is a nuclear medicine scan?
      A nuclear medicine scan is a test that produces images of the body using small safe amounts of radioactive material. These images allow the radiologist to diagnose certain diseases.
    • What should I expect?
      For a thyroid scan, the patient receives one or two pills of a very low, safe dose of radioactive iodine 24 hours prior to the study. For most other exams, a very low, safe dose of radioactive material is injected by vein at the time of the study.  After the radioactive material is administered, pictures are taken with a special camera known as a gamma camera. Sometimes the patient sits or lies next to the camera while the pictures are taken, other times the patient lies on a table which passes over the camera.
    • How long will it take?
      The imaging portion of most studies requires approximately 1 hour. Bone scans require approximately 3 hours, since the patient must return for delayed imaging. All studies are performed with an on-site physician to monitor quality control and ensure that each examination is tailored to the referring physician's clinical questions.
    • What does a nuclear medicine scan machine look like?
      The scan machine looks like a narrow table with a camera above and sometimes also below the patient. The technologist who operates the machine is in the room with the patient.
    •  Will it hurt?
      The only pain from nuclear medicine exams may be from the initial needle placement to inject the small amount of radioactivity. However, in certain nuclear medicine exams the radioactivity is administered orally and no needle is needed.
    • When may I eat after the test?
      You may eat immediately afterwards.
    • How will I get the results of the nuclear medicine scan?
      After the scan is finished, one of our board- certified radiologists will interpret the study within 24 hours and send a report to your doctor.

    For more information about nuclear medicine at Rhode Island Hospital, call 401-444-5281 or e-mail