A radioactive scan detects abscesses or infections in the body by using a radioactive material. An abscess occurs when pus collects due to an infection.
Blood is drawn from a vein, most often on the inside of the elbow or the back of the hand.
The blood sample is then sent to a lab. There the white blood cells are tagged with a radioactive substance (radioisotope) called indium. The cells are then injected back into a vein through another needle stick.
You will need to return to the office 6 to 24 hours later. At that time, you will have a nuclear scan to see if white blood cells have gathered in areas of your body where they would not be normally located.
Most of the time you do not need special preparation. You will need to sign a consent form.
For the test, you will need to wear a hospital gown or loose clothing. You will need to take off all jewelry.
Tell your provider if you are pregnant. This procedure is NOT recommended if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. Women of childbearing age (before menopause) should use some form of birth control during the course of this procedure.
Tell your provider if you have or had any of the following medical conditions, procedures, or treatments, as they can interfere with test results:
Some people feel a little pain when the needle is inserted to draw blood. Others feel only a prick or sting. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.
The nuclear medicine scan is painless. It may be a little uncomfortable to lie flat and still on the scanning table. This most often takes about an hour.
The test is rarely used today. In some cases, it may be helpful when doctors cannot localize an infection. The most common reason it is used is to look for a bone infection called osteomyelitis.
It is also used to look for an abscess that may form after surgery or on its own. Symptoms of an abscess depend on where it is found, but may include:
Other imaging tests such as an ultrasound or CT scan are often done first.
Normal findings would show no abnormal gathering of white blood cells.
A gathering of white blood cells outside of the normal areas is a sign of either an abscess or other type of inflammatory process.
Abnormal results may include:
The risks of this test include:
The test is controlled so that you get only the smallest amount of radiation exposure needed to produce the image. Most experts feel that the risk is very low compared with the benefits.
Pregnant women and children are more sensitive to the risks of radiation.
Reviewed By: Jason Levy, MD, Northside Radiology Associates, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.