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What Is a Bone Scan, and How Does it Work?

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Updated June 04, 2009

What Is a Bone Scan, and How Does it Work? Photo © A.D.A.M.

Why You Might Have a Bone Scan:

Your doctor may order a bone scan if he suspects bone pathology, or a disease of the bones, is the source of your chronic pain. Some examples of these conditions are osteomyelitis, arthritis and tumors in the bone. A bone scan may be ordered in addition to other types of scans, such as an X-ray or MRI.

How a Bone Scan Works:

Before you have a bone scan, radioactive dye will be injected into your bloodstream. You may have to wait for several hours between your injection and your bone scan, to allow time for the dye to circulate. Once you are in the scanner, special cameras pick up images from the dye which collects in certain "hot spots."

Bone Scans and Safety:

Though this might sound scary, the radiation level of the dye is very low, and is typically absorbed by your body within a few days leaving no trace behind. However, if you are pregnant or nursing, your doctor may forgo the test for some time.

What to Expect During Your Bone Scan:

Like an MRI and CT scan, you are usually asked to change to a hospital gown and remove all jewelry before a bone scan. The bone scan takes place in a gamma scanner, which is similar to a CT scanner. You are asked to lie on a table while the scan surrounds you. Unlike a CT scan or MRI, you may be asked to change positions during the test. Typical bone scans take up to an hour to perform, not including the wait time for the dye.

Source:

Medline Plus. Medical Encyclopedia: Bone Scan. Accessed 5/29/09. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003833.htm

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