A physician may order a bone scan, also referred to as a nuclear bone scan, if they think you may be experiencing a health complication related to the bone. Bone scans are valuable diagnostic tools that can reveal potential complications relating to arthritis, cancer, fractures and other conditions. As a nuclear imaging test, bone scans typically use a radioactive substance in a safe, controlled manner, which produces very little radiation.
Compared to conventional X-rays, a bone scan carries no greater risk and is generally well-tolerated by most patients. The radioactive tracers collect in spots of the body where bone may be unhealthy or damaged, helping physicians better understand potential complications a patient may be experiencing.
What Is a Nuclear Bone Scan?
A bone scan is an imaging test that can help diagnose conditions and medical complications related to the bones. A nuclear bone scan uses a safe amount of a radioactive drug from the group radiopharmaceuticals. The radioactive drug administered during a bone scan is often referred to as a dye because it can highlight areas of unhealthy bone.
There are numerous reasons a bone scan may be performed, such as revealing problems with bone metabolism, the process in which bones naturally break down and rebuild. A bone scan provides a physician with information on any abnormal or unhealthy metabolic activity within the bone. In some cases, a bone scan may be used to detect bone cancer or cancer that has spread from another part of the body to the bone.
What Happens During a Bone Scan?
There are two main parts of a bone scan, including the initial injection and the bone scan itself. Learn more about those steps and what happens after the bone scan to understand how the procedure will go.
As you prepare for your bone scan, your physician will inject tracers into the arm to help determine the parts of the damaged or unhealthy bone. In some cases, a physician may opt for an intravenous (IV) line to deliver these tracers instead of a traditional injection.
While waiting, the tracers will begin to travel through the body and concentrate in areas of damaged bone tissue. Tracers typically need between one to four hours to have enough time to work their way through the body. In some cases, you may be able to leave the facility for an hour or two while you wait for your scheduled bone scan. In others, your physician may start your bone scan immediately, depending on what they are looking for.
Allowing the tracers an adequate amount of time to travel through the body is essential for an effective bone scan. As you wait for your bone scan, your physician may recommend drinking some water, which can help flush excess tracers from the system.
2. The Bone Scan
Depending on the reason for a bone scan, some scans may be performed immediately after the injection of a tracer. Following the appropriate waiting period, another set of scans will be taken once the tracer has traveled through the body and concentrated on damaged bone portions.
Before starting the scan, you will likely be asked to use the restroom and empty your bladder. A full bladder can distort certain scans, especially of the pelvis. You will lie down on the scanning table to start your scan as the scanner will pass over you numerous times. You may be repositioned several times during the scan to provide different points of view. Many bone scans typically take up to one hour to complete.
3. After the Bone Scan
Following your bone scan, it is best to drink plenty of water and fluids to help flush the tracers from the body. For one to two days, you will want to ensure you are well-hydrated to help your body process and remove the tracers. If you had an intravenous line, the site will be checked for any irritation. If you notice any swelling, pain or uncomfortable side effects related to the injection or IV site, you will want to notify your physician.
In most cases, patients can resume daily activities and their normal diet unless otherwise specified by their physician. If you require specific or alternate instructions, your physician will supply you with this information before leaving. Most bone scan results are available within 24 to 48 hours after your appointment.
What Is a Bone Scan Used For?
A bone scan is a versatile diagnostic tool that can detect numerous health conditions and complications related to the bone. Bone scans can help detect and diagnose many conditions, including:
- Bone trauma: A bone scan can detect trauma or injury to the bone, including the most common bone fractures. With the results of a bone scan, physicians can also determine the age of fractures.
- Arthritis: If you are experiencing unexplained pain, a bone scan can help detect an underlying condition, including arthritis and osteoarthritis.
- Bone cancer: Bone scans are highly effective in detecting cancer because there is an increase in bone repair and metabolism in areas where cancer cells are present. In some cases, bone scans may also determine the stage cancer is in following a treatment to help determine if a cancer treatment is effective.
- Paget’s disease of bone: Paget’s disease of bone is a chronic condition that disrupts and negatively impacts the replacement of old bone tissue with new bone tissue. A bone scan can help detect and properly diagnose this condition.
- Fibrous dysplasia: A nuclear bone scan can detect abnormal and scar-like tissue present on the bones, a condition known as fibrous dysplasia.
- Bone infections: Osteomyelitis, commonly known as a bone infection, can be detected during a bone scan. A bone infection can develop by traveling through the bloodstream or from a nearby tissue infection.
How Do I Prepare for a Bone Scan?
In most cases, there is no need for any form of special preparation for a bone scan. It is important to notify your doctor if there is any chance you may be pregnant. A bone scan is typically not performed on pregnant women or nursing mothers due to concerns over the potential effects of radiation exposure on the baby.
Before a bone scan, you do not need to avoid certain activities or follow a strict diet. You can follow your normal routine and daily activities before your bone scan appointment. You will want to let your physician known if you take any bismuth-containing medicine or if you have undergone an X-ray test with barium within the last four days. Immediately before your bone scan, your physician may ask you to remove any jewelry or piercings.
Schedule a Bone Scan With Impression Imaging
At Impression Imaging, we strive to provide our patients with the highest level of care and utilize state-of-the-art equipment to provide high-quality scan images. Our team combines innovative technology and radiology expertise using advanced PET and CT scanners to give your doctors the information they need to assist in your care.
A trusted imaging center in Florida, we put the needs of our patients first in everything we do, creating a smooth, comfortable experience. With unparalleled technology, support and expertise, our radiologists work closely with your doctors to ensure they receive the information they need for your care efficiently and promptly.