Nuclear Medicine: Types and Effects

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Nuclear medicine is a specialty of medicine that is especially and primarily responsible for the diagnosis of patients. It provides essential and functional information, as well as the correct treatment of the various pathologies. It uses radioisotopes or radioactive isotopes, that is, nuclear radiation and other biophysical techniques so that the diagnosis is the most accurate.

Nuclear medicine is used to detect any evil inside the body, radioactive isotopes are responsible for controlling the body in different ways and thus detect any pathology. These isotopes can be stable, that is, they do not emit radiation or other radioactive.

The radiations emitted can be of different types:

  • Gamma radiation, that is, electromagnetic radiation.
  • Emissions of alpha or beta particles.

The radiation is artificial and comes from controlled nuclear reactions that take place in nuclear reactors or cyclotrons. They can be found in two chemical ways:

  • Simple structures
  • Complex molecular structures, known as radiopharmaceuticals.

What Is It and What Is It for

As we mentioned nuclear medicine is a branch of medical images that use small amounts of radioactive material to get to know and determine the severity of the disease in question, it includes many diseases that are capable of detecting: types of cancer, heart disease, gastrointestinal, neurological and other abnormalities.

This type of medicine is able to identify all molecular activity within the organism, they offer the potential to identify the disease in the early stages of creation.

How Nuclear Medicine Works

Nuclear medicine uses an image agent that once inside the body is capable of emitting a signal, that signal is detected by an image detection device capable of developing it and understanding what is happening in that organism. Image probes accumulate in a specific organ, bind to certain cells, allow visualization and measurement of biological processes and also of cellular activity.

In nuclear medicine, the image agent is a molecular compound that includes a very small part of radioactive agents and these are responsible for detecting the received signals by means of a gamma camera or a PET camera.

Uses of Nuclear Medicine

Doctors use this modern technique for the following procedures:

Heart: they visualize blood flow, check the function of the heart, detect coronary artery disease and the degree of coronary stenosis. In addition, it is able to assess the damage after a heart attack, evaluates options for patients who are going to undergo a bypass or angioplasty, as well as detect a transplant rejection and evaluation after chemotherapy.

Lungs: This technique is performed to detect blood flow problems and respiratory problems, as well as to detect a possible transplant rejection.

Bones: evaluates the bones in a fracture, infection or arthritis. Evaluate prostheses, bone tumors and identify biopsy sites.

Brain: It is ideal to investigate abnormalities, seizures, memory loss and alterations in blood flow. It can detect Parkinson’s disease, brain tumors and helps with good surgical planning.

Cancer: locates lymph nodes before surgery in patients with breast or skin cancer, as well as the detection of white tissues. Rare tumors in the pancreas or supranerral glands.

Kidneys: nuclear medicine helps to analyze native function and possible transplantation, detects obstruction of the urinary tract, evaluate hypertension related to renal arteries.

Thanks to these new techniques doctors, scientists and health professionals have made great progress in:

  • Understand the mechanisms of different diseases.
  • Quickly discover new drugs.
  • They have improved the selection of specialized treatments for each patient according to their needs.
  • Specifically and accurately evaluate the patient’s response to new treatments.
  • New ways have been found to identify individuals at risk for certain and sometimes serious diseases.

Nuclear Medicine, Side Effects

Nuclear medicine techniques are not invasive, except for intravenous injections, but usually medical exams are painless and help both the patient and the doctor, since thanks to these new tests the doctor can diagnose and evaluate the best medical conditions . These scans use radioactive materials, called radiosondes or radiopharmaceuticals.

The discovery of X-rays radically changed the way of understanding medicine, since it made it possible for doctors and scientists to see what was happening inside a living body. Unlike other more conventional imaging studies, nuclear medicine is able to visualize the functioning of the body alive by providing much more information at a cellular and molecular level.

However, abusing these types of treatments and diagnoses can have unexpected side effects, then we will tell you what are the risks detected so far. Because of the small dose of radiosonde administered, the patient may be exposed to low radiation that could be harmful. However, it is so low that the benefits provided by nuclear medicine are much greater compared to the inconveniences that it could suffer in the future.

For the moment, these procedures have been used for 50 years and today no possible adverse effects caused by this exposure have been detected. Possible risks that may occur will always be evaluated by a nuclear medicine therapist. Allergic reactions to radiopharmaceuticals may occur but they occur very infrequently and are usually mild and easy to treat reactions. However, it is convenient to tell the doctor what your different allergies are to avoid major evils.

The injection can cause mild pain and redness that disappear very quickly. In the case of women it is mandatory that they tell their doctor if they are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Therapies that Include Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine includes several therapies that can be offered to all types of patients, we will focus on the different scintigraphy:

Bone scan: this allows to study the pathology of the musculoskeletal system. The exploration is indicated in the detection of metabolic, traumatic, infectious or tumor bone alterations.

Pulmonary scintigraphy: is responsible for knowing if there is any obstruction or thrombus in the pulmonary arteries.

Renal scintigraphy: it allows obtaining morphological information of both renal silhouettes, the percentage of function that corresponds to each of them can be known with great precision.

Thyroid scan: analyzes and evaluates the anatomy of the thyroid gland. It is used to detect total or partial surgical remains, as well as ectopic thyroid tissue, thyroglossal cyst or nodules.

Bone tracking: it is an exploration of the skeleton that allows to detect small functional alterations before these can be seen with an X-ray.

Isotope Ventriculography

Brain SPECT: This test is performed to measure the blood flow of different areas of the brain, providing information on how this organ works.

Cardiac SPECT: is a test that is performed to assess the blood flow of the heart muscle (myocardium). If the scan is done at rest, it allows detecting dead muscle areas (myocardial infarction). If the examination is carried out after physical stimuli or produced by drugs, it allows to detect muscular areas that receive little blood (coronary ischemia).

Isotopic Renogram: This scan analyzes the functioning of the renal system to obtain information on each of the kidneys.

Positron emission tomography: this test is also known as PET (Positron Emission Tomography) and is a non-invasive diagnostic imaging form whose main indications have a medical scope within oncology, neurology and cardiology .

Precautions for Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine procedures can take time, radiosondes can take from several hours to days to accumulate in the part of the body of interest. Diagnostic imaging may take up to several hours, although in some cases new equipment is available that can reduce the procedure time.

Nuclear medicine scans are more sensitive than other techniques, such as magnetic resonance imaging, for example. Exams using this technique often cannot be obtained if they are not through them, they are only achieved thanks to radiosondes.

Every day molecular and nuclear imaging procedures change the life of a patient. They are brilliant techniques in medicine that help diagnose different types of cancer, detect them in time and control treatments in a comprehensive manner.


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