(Radionuclide Bone Scan; Bone Scintigraphy)
A bone scan is a test to look for changes in bone, such as injury or disease. It uses radioactive isotopes and tracer chemicals to help the doctor see problem areas.
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Reasons for Test
The test is done to look for bone problems, such as:
- Stress injuries, such as a stress fracture and shin splints
- Infection, such as osteomyelitis
- Bone tumors
- Cancer that has spread to the bones
- Metabolic problems, such as Paget disease
- Nutrition problems that can affect bones, like low vitamin D levels
- Death of an area of bone tissues due to blocked blood flow, such as avascular necrosis
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Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:
- Allergic reaction to the injected material
Some people worry about the use of radioactive material in a bone scan. The amount of radioactivity is small and passes from the body in 2 to 3 days.
What to Expect
Prior to Test
The care team will meet with you to talk about:
- Any allergies you may have
- Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take and whether you need to stop taking them before the test
- If you are pregnant or breastfeeding
- If you have taken any bismuth medicines within the last 4 days
- If you had a barium contrast x-ray within the last 4 days
Description of the Test
Radioactive tracer chemicals will be injected 3 hours before the scan.
You will lie on your back on an imaging table. A camera above and below the table will slowly scan you. You may be asked to change positions as the scan is done. You will be asked to remain still. The camera will detect small amounts of radioactivity in the injected material. This will allow the doctor to see areas where there may be bone injury or disease.
You will be able to leave after the test is done.
How Long Will It Take?
You will be in the scanner for 20 to 60 minutes. Sometimes another scan is done after 24 hours.
Will It Hurt?
Most people do not have any problems after this test. You will be able to go back to normal activities.
If your bone tissue is healthy, the scan will show that the chemical has spread evenly to all of your bones. If there is an area of disease, darker or lighter areas will be seen on the scan. These will show the areas with abnormal bone activity.
Problems to Look Out For
Call your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
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- Bone scan. Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/bone-scan.
- Saunier J, Chapurlat R. Stress fracture in athletes. Joint Bone Spine. 2018;85(3):307-310. .
- Skeletal scintigraphy (bone scan). Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info/bone-scan.
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