Renal Nuclear Medicine Scan

A renal (kidney) nuclear medicine scan is a diagnostic test used to evaluate kidney function and diagnose certain kidney diseases. It is an extremely effective diagnostic tool because, in addition to showing the anatomy of the kidneys, it reveals how well the kidneys are functioning. During the scan, a radioisotope or tracer is injected into a vein, and followed to and through the kidneys with special detectors; the process is viewed on a computer imaging screen. The images produced show the delivery of fluid into the kidneys through the bloodstream, the buildup of waste in the kidney, and the excretion of fluid from the kidneys through the ureters and into the bladder. Being able to analyze kidney function allows physicians to diagnose many kidney diseases and problems more quickly and accurately than is possible with standard imaging tests.

Reasons for a Renal Nuclear Medicine Scan

A renal nuclear medicine scan may be performed to evaluate kidney function and view any abnormalities in the size, shape and structure of the kidneys. It may also be performed to evaluate the following:

  • Renovascular hypertension
  • Renal artery stenosis
  • Kidney function after a transplant
  • Damage or blockage within the ureters

It may also be performed to locate and evaluate tumors, cysts or abscesses in the kidneys.

The Renal Nuclear Medicine Scan Procedure

A renal nuclear medicine scan is performed as an outpatient procedure. The patient may be advised to stop taking certain medications for a few days prior to the procedure. Before the scan, a patient should drink plenty of water and be well hydrated. A radioactive material, called a radioisotope (tracer) is injected into a vein. The radioisotope releases gamma rays, which a gamma camera or scanner can detect from outside the body. The gamma camera scans the kidney area, and tracks the radioisotope as it travels through the kidneys. The camera creates computer images that detail the the structure of the kidneys, and indicate how well they are functioning. The patient must lie very still during the procedure so the images are not blurry. A renal nuclear medicine scan takes about 30 to 60 minutes to perform.

Risks and Recovery from a Renal Nuclear Medicine Scan

Regular activities can be resumed immediately after the scan. Redness and soreness at the injection site are the only possible side effects. Although the radiation exposure is minimal, prior to undergoing the scan, a patient should let her doctor know if she is pregnant or nursing.

Images from a renal nuclear medicine scan can reveal, without using invasive techniques or surgery, structural and functional abnormalities of the kidneys

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