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 can be an 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.  The tracer is followed with special detectors and imaging as it passes through the kidneys. The images show the delivery of blood into the kidneys, 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 certain types of kidney diseases 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 typically is an outpatient procedure. The patient may be advised to stop taking certain medications for a few days prior to the procedure. 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 and function of the kidneys. The patient typically is asked to lie very still during the procedure so the images are not blurry. 

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 rare but can occur. Although the radiation exposure is minimal, prior to undergoing the scan, a patient should let her doctor know if she is pregnant or nursing.

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