Abscess scan - radioactive

Definition

Radioactive abscess scan uses a radioactive substance to look for abscesses in the body. An abscess is a collection of pus in any part of the body. Abscesses occur when an area of tissue becomes infected, most often with bacteria.

Alternative Names

Radioactive abscess scan; Abscess scan

How the Test is Performed

Blood is typically drawn from a vein, usually from the inside of the elbow or the back of the hand. The site is cleaned with germ-killing medicine (antiseptic). The health care provider wraps an elastic band around the upper arm to apply pressure to the area and make the vein swell with blood.

Next, the health care provider gently inserts a needle into the vein. The blood collects into an airtight vial or tube attached to the needle. The elastic band is removed from your arm.

Once the blood has been collected, the needle is removed, and the puncture site is covered to stop any bleeding.

The blood sample is then sent to a lab, where the white blood cells (WBCs) are tagged with a radioactive substance called indium. The cells are then reinjected back into a vein in your body through another needle stick.

You will have an appointment to return after 6 - 24 hours. A nuclear medicine scan will be used to see if WBCs have gathered in areas of your body where they normally would not be.

How to Prepare for the Test

You must wear a hospital gown and remove all jewelry.

Tell the health care provider if you are pregnant. This procedure is NOT recommended if you are pregnant. If you are a women in childbearing years (before menopause), you should use some form of birth control during the course of this procedure.

You should also tell your health care provider if you have or had any of the following medical conditions, procedures, or treatments, as they can interfere with test results:

How the Test Will Feel

When the needle is inserted to draw blood, some people feel moderate pain, while others feel only a prick or stinging sensation. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.

The nuclear medicine scan is painless. There may be some discomfort lying flat and still on the scanning table for a short period of time.

Why the Test is Performed

An abscess may form after surgery, or it may form on its own. Symptoms of an abscess depend on where it is found, but may include:

  • Fever
  • Not feeling well
  • Pain

This test is used to locate an abscess in the body. Often, other imaging tests such as an ultrasound or CT scan may be done first.

Normal Results

Normal findings would show no abnormal gathering of white blood cells.

What Abnormal Results Mean

A gathering of white blood cells outside of the normal areas is a sign of either an abscess or other type of inflammatory process.

Some types of abscess are:

Risks

  • Some bruising may occur at the site of injection.
  • There is always a slight chance of infection when the skin is broken.
  • There is low-level radiation exposure.

Radioactive injections are monitored and controlled to provide the minimum amount of radiation exposure needed to produce the image. Most experts feel that the risk is very low compared with the benefits.

Pregnant women and children are more sensitive to the risks of the x-ray.

References

Segerman D, Miles KA. Radionuclide imaging: general principles. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 5th ed. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone;2008:chap 7.

Wilson DJ, Berendt AR. Bone and soft tissue infection. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 5th ed. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone;2008:chap 51.


Review Date: 11/21/2010
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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