Nuclear medicine is a medical specialty that is used to diagnose and treat diseases in a safe and painless way.
This is a branch of medical imaging that uses small amounts of radioactive material to diagnose and determine the severity of or treat a variety of diseases. Nuclear medicine imaging procedures are noninvasive and, with the exception of intravenous injections, are usually painless medical tests that help physicians diagnose and evaluate medical conditions. These imaging scans use radioactive materials called radiopharmaceuticals or radiotracers. Depending on the type of nuclear medicine exam, the radiotracer is either injected into the body, swallowed or inhaled as a gas and eventually accumulates in the organ or area of the body being examined. Radioactive emissions from the radiotracer are detected by a special camera or imaging device that produces pictures and provides molecular information.
Nuclear medicine procedures permit the determination of medical information that may otherwise be unavailable, require surgery, or necessitate more expensive and invasive diagnostic tests. The procedures often identify abnormalities very early in the progression of a disease – long before some medical problems are apparent with other diagnostic tests. This early detection allows a disease to be treated sooner in its course when a more successful prognosis may be possible.
Nuclear medicine can diagnose many different kinds of diseases. It can be used to identify abnormal lesions deep in the body without exploratory surgery. The procedures can also determine whether or not certain organs are functioning normally. For example, nuclear medicine can determine whether or not the heart can pump blood adequately, if the brain is receiving an adequate blood supply, and if the brain cells are functioning properly or not. Nuclear medicine can determine whether or not the kidneys are functioning normally, and whether the stomach is emptying properly. It can determine a patient’s blood volume, lung function, vitamin absorption, and bone density. Nuclear medicine can locate the smallest bone fracture before it can be seen on an x-ray.
It can also identify sites if seizures (epilepsy), Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Nuclear medicine can find cancer, determine whether they are responding to treatment, and determine if infected bones will heal.
After a heart attack, nuclear medicine procedures can assess the damage to the heart. It can also tell physicians how well newly transplanted organs are functioning.