What Is a Renal Scintigraphy?

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  • Written By: Stacy Taylor
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 22 January 2020
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Renal scintigraphy is a nuclear chemical imaging method that is used to conduct an in-depth evaluation of a patient’s blood flow and kidney functionality. This test might also be called a renal scan, radioisotope renography, renal imaging or nuclear medicine renal scan. There are several types of renal scintigraphy, each involving the injection of radioisotopes into the bloodstream followed by tracking and imaging the radioactive tracers with a special camera as the chemicals make their way to the kidneys. The entire scan typically lasts 30-60 minutes and causes no discomfort beyond an initial pinprick.

The two most common types of renal scintigraphy require the use of the radiopharmaceuticals diethylene triamine pentaacetic acid (DTPA) and mercapto acetyl tri glycine (MAG3). In the majority of patients, DTPA provides sufficient imaging, but occasionally MAG3 produces clearer images in senior citizens and the very young. Renal imaging poses few health risks and almost no aftereffects, but pregnant women and nursing mothers are advised to inform the radiology technician about their condition. In rare cases, some patients exhibit allergies to certain nuclear medicines and might experience adverse effects following the procedure.


Healthcare providers use renal scintigraphy to evaluate existing disorders and to determine the reason for undiagnosed health problems related to the kidneys. In people who have received renal transplants, scanning with isotopes is one of the methods that doctors use to detect and treat organ rejection or abnormal fluid circulation in the kidneys. A renal scan can also uncover dangerous health conditions such as renovascular hypertension and the narrowing of the arteries that are responsible for delivering blood to the kidneys. Additionally, the clinical tracing of radioisotopes in the blood might illuminate specific areas of urinary system blockage that have resulted from trauma or damage to the kidneys.

In most cases, patients can expect a renal scintigraphy session to occur in a familiar clinical setting. A blood pressure cuff or tourniquet is applied to the upper arm, and a technician injects radioactive material into the bloodstream through a tube or cannula. As soon as the technician loosens the tourniquet, the isotopes begin their journey to the kidneys through the circulatory system. Occasionally, a second injection containing the diuretic frusemide might be administered via the cannula about 15 minutes later. Frusemide increases the production and flow of urine through the ureters, making obstructions in the urinary system easier to locate.

At this point, the technician uses a gamma camera to capture several images of the kidneys. Gamma cameras are imaging devices that are specially equipped to locate and track radioisotopes throughout the body. After the session, a technician analyzes the images with computer software and forwards the results to the patient’s physician.


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