• <div class="section1"> Definition

    A nuclear medicine scan of the gallbladder is used to produce a set of images that look like x rays. The procedure uses a small amount of radioactive dye which is injected into the body. The dye accumulates in the organ, in this case, the gallbladder. A special camera called a scintillation or gamma camera produces images based on how the dye travels through the system and how the radiation is absorbed by the tissues. The procedure is also called cholescintigraphy or a hepatobiliary scan.


    A nuclear medicine scan can be used to diagnose disease and to find abnormalities in a body organ. A gallbladder scan can detect gallstones, tumors, or defects of the gallbladder. It can also be used to diagnose blockages of the bile duct that leads from the gallbladder to the small intestine. Unlike ultrasound, a gallbladder nuclear medicine scan can assess gallbladder function.


    Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should tell their doctors before a scan is performed. Some medications or even eating a high fat meal before the procedure can interfere with the results of the scan.


    The gallbladder is a small pear-shaped sac located under the liver. The liver produces bile, a yellowish-green mixture of salts, acids, and other chemicals, that are stored in the gallbladder. Bile is secreted into the small intestine to help the body digest fats from foods.

    Gallbladder disease, gallstones, cancer, or other abnormalities can cause pain and other symptoms. A gallbladder condition might be suspected if a patient has chronic or occasional pain in the upper right side of the abdomen. The pain may be stabbing and intense with sudden onset or it may be more of a dull, occasional ache. Loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting can also occur. Fever may indicate the presence of infection. Jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, may also indicate that the gallbladder is involved.

    A gallbladder nuclear medicine scan may be used to diagnose gallstones, blockage of the bile duct or other abnormalities, and to assess gallbladder functioning and inflammation (cholecystitis). The scan is usually performed in a hospital or clinical radiology department. The patient lies on an examination table while a small amount of radioactive dye is injected into a vein in the arm. This dye circulates through the blood and collects in the gallbladder. As the dye moves through the gallbladder, a series of pictures is taken using a special camera called a scintillation or gamma camera. This procedure produces images that look like x rays. The test usually takes one to two hours to complete, but can last up to four hours.

    The results of the scan are read by a radiologist, a doctor specializing in x rays and other types of scanning techniques. A report is sent, usually within 24 hours, to the doctor who will discuss the results with the patient.


    The patient may be required to withhold food and liquids for up to eight hours before the scan.


    No special care is required after the procedure. Once the scan is complete, the patient can return to normal activities.


    Nuclear medicine scans use a very small amount of radioactive material, and the risk of radiation is minimal. Very rarely, a patient may have a reaction to the dye material used.

    Normal results

    A normal scan shows a gallbladder without gallstones. There will be no evidence of growths or tumors, and no signs of infection or swelling. The normal gallbladder fills with bile and secretes it through the bile duct without blockages.

    Abnormal results

    An abnormal scan may show abnormal gallbladder emptying (suggesting gallbladder dysfunction or inflammation), or gallstones in the gallbladder or in the bile duct. The presence of tumors, growths or other types of blockages of the duct or the gallbladder itself could also appear on an abnormal scan.

    Source: The Gale Group. Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 3rd ed.

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