AUA Summit - What is a Kidney (Renal) Nuclear Medicine Scan?


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What is a Kidney (Renal) Nuclear Medicine Scan?

A renal nuclear medical scan is used to diagnose certain kidney diseases. It shows not only what the kidneys look like, but also how well they work. Your doctor can use this to pinpoint certain health issues much sooner than with other methods.

In this test, images are made to see how blood flows into and out of the kidneys. It shows how urine flows through the kidneys, ureters and bladder. Also, it can estimate how much each kidney is helping to clean your blood! It is important for your health that your kidneys work the way they’re supposed to.

With Nuclear Medicine Imaging (NMI), it can find the cause of reduced kidney function. For example, it shows problems due to a disease, obstruction (a blockage), or injury.

Renal NMI finds:

  • High blood pressure in the renal arteries
  • Tumors or cysts
  • Abscesses
  • Kidney disease
  • How well kidneys function after treatment or transplants


Before this test, you should tell your doctor if you are pregnant or nursing, and if you are on any medications.

During this test a "tracer" is injected into one of your veins. The tracer has a radioactive "tag" so that it can be followed in your body with special detectors. Right after the tracer is injected, the imaging will begin. A special gamma camera is used to track the radioactivity. Images may be shown on a PC screen and then stored on film.

This test is performed in a hospital or in a health care provider’s office by a nuclear medicine technologist. During this test, you will be on an exam table. You will be asked to lie still to keep the images from blurring.

After the Test

The NM Renal Scan can take 45 minutes to 3 hours, based on the goals of the test. You can go back to your normal activities after having it, as the tracer is removed from your body naturally in urine. This test is safe because it does not have the risk of toxicity or allergic reaction as with IV dyes. Also, it exposes you to less radiation than with an X-ray.

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