Bone Scan

A bone scan or skeletal scintigraphy is an imaging test that uses a special camera to make images of your bones. It is a type of nuclear imaging exam. It uses a small amount of radioactive material, called a radiotracer, that goes to where there is abnormal production of bone. Your doctor may recommend a bone scan if you have symptoms such as bone pains or frequent fractures. It's used to diagnose bone problems, such as arthritis, fractures, or cancer. It is also used to detect cancer that may have spread from another part of the body (metastasis), such as the breast, lung, or prostate to the bones. It can also be used to diagnose infections and joint problems such as arthritis. It's also used to check joint replacements. Besides the diagnosis of bone conditions, a bone scan also helps monitor or track these diseases to check the response to treatment.

What to tell your healthcare provider

Let the technologist know if you:

  • Take any medicines

  • Are pregnant or think you may be pregnant, or are breastfeeding

  • Have had a nuclear medicine scan before

  • Have had a recent barium study such as a barium enema, esophagram, or upper GI series

  • Take bismuth-containing medicine such as Pepto-Bismol

  • Have any fractures or artificial joints

  • Have any allergies

During your scan appointment

Your bone scan may take up to a half day. Bring something you can do while waiting to have your scan.

Before the scan

  • You will have an IV (intravenous) line placed into a vein in your arm or hand.

  • A tracer (a small amount of radioactive material) is injected into your vein.

  • You may be asked to drink several glasses of water and empty your bladder.

  • Your scan may be done right away or a few hours later. If your scan is done right away, you will have a second scan in a few hours.

During the scan

  • You will lie on a narrow imaging table.

  • A large camera is placed close to your body.

  • Stay as still as you can while the camera takes the pictures. This will ensure the best images. You may be asked to change positions during the scan. This is to help get pictures at different positions.

  • The table or camera may be adjusted to take more pictures.

    Woman lying on table underneath scanner. Healthcare provider is adjusting scanner.
    A large camera takes images of your bones.

After your exam

  • You may typically not experience any discomfort following the bone scan and resume your routine activities including driving following the scan.

  • Drink plenty of water for a day or two to help clear the tracer from your body. It may take up to two days for the radioactivity to completely flush out from your body.

  • Your healthcare provider will discuss the test results with you during a follow-up visit or over the phone.

Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Turley Jr PA-C
Online Medical Reviewer: Shaziya Allarakha MD
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2021
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