Nuclear Medicine | Radiology at UnityPoint Health - Des Moines

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UnityPoint Health - Des Moines

Nuclear Medicine

What is a Nuclear Medicine Exam

Your physician has ordered a nuclear medicine exam. A nuclear medicine exam is useful in diagnosing abnormalities in different systems throughout the body. These include the skeletal, gastrointestinal, cardiac, renal, pulmonary, endocrine, and lymphatic systems. Each system has a specific radiopharmaceutical used to provide a diagnosis. A radiopharmaceutical is a drug that is attached to a small amount of radioactive material so that it can be visualized using a detector or imaging system. The radiopharmaceutical is introduced to your system either orally or I.V. injection.

How much exposure and how long does the radiation stay in my body?

The radiation exposure is minimal. It is typically the same as what you get from a chest x-ray. There has been years of research and development in the field of Nuclear Medicine. There is no evidence of danger caused by the radiation exposure. The radiopharmaceutical typically disappears naturally from your system in one or two days.

Will there be side effects?

Side effects and complications specifically allergic reactions are very rare.

What should I expect?

Your physician will be providing you with specific instructions preparing you for the exam. Depending on your exam, it might require you to be taken off certain medications or fasting.

Please arrive 30 minutes prior to your appointment time to allow for registration.

It will be beneficial to bring any pertinent radiographic films taken outside the facility that is performing your nuclear medicine exam.

In most cases, you will be allowed to wear your normal clothing during the test. It will be beneficial that your clothes be comfortable and loose fitting. If your test requires you to be on a treadmill, tennis shoes or other comfortable walking shoes should be worn. We encourage you to leave all valuables such as jewelry at home. A board-certified technologist will start by asking you a few questions. Next, the technologist will administer the radiopharmaceutical. Typically, you will be asked to lie motionless on an imaging table for several minutes at a time. This time varies depending on your exam. The typical exam will last one to three hours. However, there are exams that are more time consuming. Ask your physician or call the UnityPoint Health - Des Moines nuclear medicine department that you have your appointment with, for specifics. Those telephone numbers are:

Iowa Lutheran: (515) 263-5974
Iowa Methodist: (515) 241-6458
Methodist West:
(515) 343-1800

How do I get results?

Your exam will be interpreted by a board certified radiologist who is a physician specifically trained to interpret nuclear medicine exams. Typically, your physician can either call the radiology dictation line or wait for a written report. If the dictation line is used, your physician can receive results the next day or written results will be received within three days. Ask your physician for a follow-up appointment to go over the results with you.

Brief Explanation of Commonly Ordered Exams

This exam is examining the skeletal system for abnormalities such as arthritis, fractures, and tumors.

Preparations: None

You will be injected and asked to return in two to three hours for pictures.

This exam is to evaluate coronary artery disease.


  • Fasting starting at midnight prior to the exam
  • No smoking or nicotine four hours prior to exam

Iowa Lutheran: The exam has two parts lasting a total of two to three hours.
Iowa Methodist: The exam will be done over two days approximately one to two hours each day.

This exam is to assess thyroid function and anatomy.


  • Fasting starting at midnight prior to the exam
  • No x-ray contrast within the last six months
  • No thyroid medication for four weeks

Iowa Lutheran: You will be administered a capsule orally and asked to return in 24 hours for and uptake
determination and imaging.
Iowa Methodist: You will be administered a capsule orally and asked to return in four hours for an uptake determination and again in 24 hours for uptake and scan.

This exam is for locating infections body.

Preparation: None

You will have blood drawn and asked to return in two hours to be injected with the radioactively tagged white blood cells. Once injected you will be asked to return again in two to three hours for Ceretec imaging and 24 hours for In111 WBC imaging.

This exam is to assess gallbladder function.


  • Fasting for at least six hours prior to the exam
  • Discontinue the use of morphine or morphine derived drugs for at least 24 hours prior to the exam
  • No radiological contrast (i.e. upper GI or Barium enema exams) within the last 48 hours prior to the exam.

You will be injected and asked to remain motionless while lying on your back for 45-120 minutes while images are taken. In most cases, this will be followed by 30 more minutes of imaging while a drug is administered to induce gallbladder function.