Nuclear Medicine for Children

Children at Trinity Medical Imaging

At Trinity Medical Imaging we understand that undergoing a scan as a child can be a scary experience and can be stressful for parents. We aim to reassure you and your child by answering any questions you may have and alleviate any fears before you arrive for your appointment. Please feel free to contact us at any time to ask questions from our team, and we will always do our best to answer them.

At Trinity Medical Imaging, we are committed to providing a safe and child-friendly atmosphere. We try and perform all our children’s scans on dedicated paediatric days so that we can make sure the environment is best suited to them by:

  • Having specialized nuclear medicine consultants with expertise in interpreting Meckel’s diverticulum scans in children of all ages
  • Having certified nuclear medicine technologists with years of experience imaging children and teens
  • Having play specialists to help families prior to and during exams
  • Providing equipment adapted for paediatric use, which means age-appropriate care
  • Having protocols that keep radiation exposure as low as reasonably achievable while assuring high image quality.

Children’s (pediatric) nuclear medicine imaging uses small amounts of radioactive materials called radiopharmaceuticals and a special camera to help diagnose childhood disorders. It provides unique information that often cannot be obtained using other imaging procedures.

What is Children’s (Pediatric) Nuclear Medicine?

Nuclear medicine uses radioactive isotopes in the form of radiopharmaceuticals to produce images of different parts of the body. These radiopharmaceuticals emit gamma rays, which are like X-rays. The radiation does not remain for very long, as the isotope decays within a few hours.

The isotopes are usually injected into a vein, but may sometimes be swallowed or inhaled. The gamma rays from the isotope are detected by a special camera called a gamma camera. Unlike X-rays, nuclear medicine can also be used to show how an organ is functioning, as well as what it looks like.

Children’s (paediatric) nuclear medicine refers to imaging examinations done in babies, young children and teenagers.

Nuclear medicine imaging procedures are noninvasive and, with the exception of injections, are usually painless medical tests that help doctors diagnose and evaluate medical conditions.

At Trinity Medical Imaging, nuclear medicine images can be superimposed with computed tomography (CT or CAT scans) to produce special views, a practice known as SPECT-CT. These views allow the information from two different exams to be correlated and interpreted on one image, leading to more precise information and accurate diagnoses.

What are some common uses of the procedure?

Children’s nuclear medicine imaging is performed to help diagnose childhood disorders that are congenital (present at birth) or that develop during childhood.

Doctors use nuclear medicine imaging to evaluate organ systems, including the; kidneys and bladder, bones, liver and gallbladder, gastrointestinal tract, heart, lungs, brain and thyroid gland.

At Trinity Medical Imaging, nuclear medicine scans are used to help diagnose and evaluate:

  • urinary blockage in the kidney.
  • backflow of urine from the bladder into the kidney (reflux).
  • bone cancer, infections and trauma.
  • gastrointestinal bleeding and motility.
  • tumors and the spread of cancerous cells in the body.
  • jaundice in newborns and older children.
  • location, anatomy and function of the thyroid gland. 

How is the procedure performed?

Nuclear medicine imaging is often performed on an outpatient basis, but is sometimes performed on hospitalized patients as well.

The type of nuclear medicine examination will determine how the radiotracer is introduced into your child’s body:

  • Intravenous: a small needle is used to inject the radiopharmaceutical. The needle is removed immediately after. At times, an indwelling intravenous cannula may be needed for the duration of the exam.
  • Oral: for some exams, the radiotracer is taken by mouth, such as for a gastroesophageal reflux test.
  • Inhaled: occasionally the radiotracer will be inhaled as a gas via a mask, such as with a lung scan.

It can take between several seconds to up to a few days for radiopharmaceuticals to travel through your child’s body and accumulate in the organ or area being studied. As a result, imaging may be done immediately, a few hours later, or even a few days after your child receives the radiopharmaceutical.

Are there any special preparations for the scan?

When making your appointment, you will be given any special instructions about what to eat and drink before your child’s scan. You will be asked what medication your child is taking, and in some cases, you will be asked to stop some medication before the scan. Sometimes, your doctor will prescribe you some premedication to take before the scan, which we will confirm with you at the time of booking.

Arriving for your appointment

When you arrive for your appointment, please go to the reception desk, after which you will be shown where to wait until collected by a colleague.

You will be greeted by one of our play specialists, who will help reassure your child about the scan they are going to have, and help them relax while in the waiting room.

While you are waiting, your child will be able to select from a range of themes for the scanning room decoration, lighting and music.

Your technologist will call you through for your scan and you may be asked some questions about your child’s health, or whether your child has had this examination before.

The technologist will then administer the radiopharmaceutical preparation, which can be either an injection into a vein in the arm, as a meal or inhaled as a gas, depending on the scan your child is having.

What happens during the scan?

When it is time for the imaging to begin, your child will lie down on an examination table. The gamma camera will then take a series of images. The camera may rotate around your child or the camera will stay in one position. While the camera is taking pictures, your child will need to remain still for brief periods of time. Actual scanning time varies from 20 minutes to several hours.

During this procedure, parents are usually allowed and often encouraged to stay in the room. The exception to this is if the child’s mother is pregnant.

Can my child listen to music while he/she has a scan?

Your technologist will ask your child whether he/she would like to listen to music during the scan. You may bring in a CD or select music from our selection. Depending on the length of the scan, your child may be able to watch a movie on the screen during their scan.

Are there are any risks?

As the gamma rays are similar to X-rays, there are small risks associated with being exposed to radiation. However, the radiation decays away over a few hours and the amount of radiation used in medical imaging is very low. This is comparable to the natural radiation we all receive from the environment between 2 months to 2 years.  If you are concerned about the risks of the radiation, please speak to a member of our team.

Allergic reactions to the radiopharmaceuticals are extremely rare and usually mild. Nevertheless, you should inform us of any allergies your child may have or other problems that may have occurred during a previous nuclear medicine exam.

What will my child experience during and after the procedure?

Except for intravenous injections, most nuclear medicine procedures are painless and are not associated with significant discomfort or side effects.

If the radiopharmaceutical is given intravenously, your child will feel a pin prick, much like a vaccination injection. When the radioactive material is injected into the arm, your child will not experience any discomfort. When swallowed, the radiopharmaceutical has little or no taste. If inhaled, your child should feel no differently than when breathing room air.

When will you get the results?

The scan will be examined after your visit and a written report on the findings will be sent to your referring doctor within 7 days.

Please remember

The radiopharmaceutical required for this examination is ordered especially for your child. If your child cannot attend their appointment, please let the department know as soon as possible, so that we can use it for someone else.

We hope that this leaflet has answered your questions, but remember that this is only a starting point for discussion about your treatment with the doctors looking after you. Make sure you are satisfied that you have received enough information about the procedure.


Trinity Medical Imaging