What is a Scintigraphy?

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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2019
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Scintigraphy is a nuclear medicine technique. It allows images to be obtained after patients are given substances that make them radioactive. This procedure can be used in analyzing components such as bones, tissues, and bodily systems. This procedure is often ideal in helping to detect diseases and track health changes.

Scintigraphy involves giving a radioactive substance, known as a radiopharmaceutical, to a patient. These substances are generally formulated to target certain parts of the body. Sometimes these substances are administered through intravenous injection. Sometimes they are administered locally, or at the site that is to be imaged.

The radiopharmaceutical circulates throughout the body and usually gathers in the part of the body that needs to be assessed. Once this happens, the person will begin emitting radiation. The radioactivity in the person’s body allows an external device to sense the gamma rays.

The device generally used for this purpose is known as a gamma camera. It is sometimes called a scintillation camera. When radioactive energy is detected, a flash of light is usually emitted. More intense energy will result in brighter flashes of light.

The flashes can be recorded and converted into an image. The image that results from scintigraphy can be handled in a number of ways. If a person needs it in a physical form, it can be printed onto paper or exposed onto film. The image can also be stored digitally or transferred elsewhere.


Scintigraphy differs from radiology in a number of ways. One example is that each has a different radioactive source. In radiology, the source is the machine used. With scintigraphy, the imaging machine detects the radioactivity from an external source, which is the patient.

Another difference is that scintigraphy is more effective in helping detect disease. Radiography is most likely to reveal the effects that have occurred as a result of a disease. Scintigraphy assesses physiology, which can allow a disease to be detected before it causes the kinds of changes that would appear in an x-ray. Scintigraphy also allows changes that occur during illness to be tracked.

This nuclear medicine procedure generally involves a period of isolation for the patient. Even once she has completed the procedure, the patient still emits radiation. During this time, she is not allowed to enjoy the company of others. The time it takes for the radiation in a person’s body to decay to a level acceptable for release can vary. After a person is released, she may still emit small quantities of radiation for about two days.


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