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Updates from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital

Submitted by Kimberly Parker

An area of medical care you may not hear much about unless you need a specific test is nuclear medicine. Last year the diagnostic imaging rooms at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital (SNMH) were upgraded including the nuclear medicine room. Joshua Crisosto, manager of Diagnostic Imaging and Radiation Oncology, oversees nuclear medical care at the hospital.

Nuclear medicine is a form of diagnostic imaging in which radiopharmaceuticals are injected to assess organ structure and function. Radiopharmaceuticals are drugs that can be used for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. They utilize radioactive isotopes, which are two or more forms of chemical elements having the same number of protons in the nucleus. They are designed to localize within specific body tissues.

There are numerous reasons for a nuclear medicine test. Common exams assess the possibility of coronary artery disease, investigate gallbladder or thyroid function, localize potential infections, and localize GI (gastrointestinal) bleeds. When imaging is taken, the scans better represent organs, blood vessels, bones, or nerves. SNMH recently acquired a SPECT/CT (single photon emission computed tomography) (computerized tomography) camera, which combines traditional nuclear medicine images with CT images to improve localization and view adjacent structures.

While a nuclear medicine test may sound scary, it is pretty straight forward. According to Crisosto, “in most cases radiopharmaceuticals are injected intravenously by either a small needle poke or an IV. Fortunately, there are no side effects to any of our radiopharmaceuticals. Most have very short half-lives, and leave the body quite rapidly.”

After a radiopharmaceutical is introduced into the body, a waiting period is necessary to allow the radiopharmaceuticals to migrate to the respective organ for imaging. This waiting time varies and is dependent upon the type of exam. Once the waiting period has passed, the patient is placed on the imaging bed and during the next steps must remain very still. A special camera that detects the radiopharmaceutical is placed over the patient’s body to take images. These images are then sent to a computer where a radiologist interprets them. Once this is done and results are in, a physician will check to see if the organs are working properly and can make a diagnosis.

Nuclear medicine techs have a license that can be achieved by either a two year training program or four year baccalaureate program. While there are a few select exams that the radiologist will inject the radiopharmaceutical, most often the test is conducted by a tech.

People often wonder how nuclear medicine is different than radiology. The primary difference is nuclear medicine utilizes radiopharmaceuticals to assess organ function, where other imaging techniques are used primarily to visualize anatomy or more simply put, radiology is designed to see anatomy (shapes and sizes), while nuclear medicine sees physiology (cells, molecules, chemical interactions, etc.).

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and states regulate the use of radioactive materials for nuclear medicine to ensure patients, medical personnel, and the public are safe.


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