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Kidney (Renal) Nuclear Medicine Scan

A kidney (renal) nuclear medicine scan is used to diagnose certain kidney diseases. It is an excellent diagnostic tool because it shows not only the anatomy of the kidneys, but the function of them as well. This additional "functional information" allows radionuclide imaging to diagnose certain diseases and various medical conditions much sooner than other imaging examinations.

Prior to this test the patient should advise their physician if they are pregnant or breastfeeding and if they are on any medications.

This test is performed in a hospital radiology department or in a health care provider's office by a nuclear medicine technologist under the supervision of a physician. During this test, the patient will be positioned on an exam table and they are asked to lie still to prevent blurring of the images that will be taken. For this test, a radioisotope "tracer," a molecule to which a radioactive atom or "tag" has been attached so that it can be followed through the kidney system with special detectors, is injected into a vein. Immediately after the tracer is injected, imaging begins. A gamma camera detects the radioactivity and the images may be projected on a computer screen and then stored on film.

This test can take 45 minutes to three hours, depending on the goals of the test. Patients can resume their normal activities immediately after the test as tracers are passed naturally from the body.

Radionuclide imaging is considered safe since it does not carry the risk of toxicity or allergic reaction found with intravenous dyes. Also since the radioisotope tracer exposes the patient to less radiation than an X-ray.



Reviewed January 2011

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Kidney (Renal) Nuclear Medicine Scan Glossary
  • anatomy: The physical structure of an internal structure of an organism or any of its parts.

  • intravenous: Also referred to as IV. Existing or occurring inside a vein.

  • ions: Electrically charged atoms.

  • kidney: One of two bean-shaped organs that filter wastes from the blood and discharge these waste products in urine. The kidneys are located on either side at the level of the 12th ribs toward the back. The kidneys send urine to the bladder through tubes called ureters.

  • kidneys: One of two bean-shaped organs that filter wastes from the blood and discharge these waste products in urine. The kidneys are located on either side at the level of the 12th ribs toward the back. The kidneys send urine to the bladder through tubes called ureters.

  • nuclear medicine: Branch of medicine pertaining to diagnostic, therapeutic and investigative use of radioactive chemical elements.

  • nuclear medicine scan: Also called nuclear scan. A test of the structure, blood flow, and function of the kidneys. The doctor injects a mildly radioactive solution into an arm vein and uses X-rays to monitor its progress through the kidneys.

  • radiation: Also referred to as radiotherapy. X-rays or radioactive substances used in treatment of cancer.

  • radioactive: Relating to or making use of radioactive substances or the radiation they emit.

  • radioactivity: High energy particles emitted by radioactive substances.

  • radioisotope: A particular form of chemical element that is radioactive.

  • radionuclide: Radioactive nuclide.

  • renal: Pertaining to the kidneys.

  • toxicity: Degree to which something is poisonous.

  • vein: Blood vessel that drains blood away from an organ or tissue.

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