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Understanding Healthcare Technology: Nuclear Medicine

February 24, 2014

With over 60,000 miles of blood vessels, 206 bones, and around 100,000 daily heartbeats, the human body is a highly complicated network of internal systems. However, scientific and technological advances have provided healthcare specialists the tools required to diagnosis, treat, and understand the human body better than ever before.
 

(Arkansas City, KS) - With over 60,000 miles of blood vessels, 206 bones, and around 100,000 daily heartbeats, the human body is a highly complicated network of internal systems. However, scientific and technological advances have provided healthcare specialists the tools required to diagnosis, treat, and understand the human body better than ever before.

One of the more advanced tools in medical diagnostic testing is nuclear medicine. Nuclear medicine is a specialty within radiological medicine. According to the American Board of Nuclear Medicine, nuclear medicine uses radioactive materials, "to evaluate molecular, metabolic, physiologic and pathologic conditions of the body for the purposes of diagnosis, therapy and research."

Millions of nuclear medicine tests are performed each year in the United States, and nuclear medicine testing is performed regularly through the radiology department at South Central Kansas Medical Center.

"The difference between 'nuc med' and the rest of radiology is that in nuclear medicine the machine is not emitting radiation. The nuclear medicine machine is a camera that picks up the gamma rays that are emitted from the patient, where CT and x-ray are using an x-ray beam to utilize the radiation," explained Nicole Morris, the medical center's lead radiology technician,

Katrina Uecker, Registered Nuclear Medicine Technologist, has been performing exams at the medical center for the past ten months.

"With 'nuc med' we are looking more at function, whereas CT or MRI is looking more at anatomy. We use isotopes, also called radio tracers; we inject them or for some studies we have the patient ingest them orally and it goes to the area that the radio-pharmaceutical is tagged. For example, in one study the isotope will travel to the gall bladder and then we look to see its function," Uecker said.

And while having radioactive isotopes injected into your body sounds very risky, studies have proven that nuclear medicine testing is actually less harmful than other more traditional forms of medical diagnostic testing.

Craig Freudenrich, Ph.D. in his published article, "How Nuclear Medicine Works" stated, "In nuclear medicine imaging tests, injected radioactive substances do not harm the body. The radioisotopes used in nuclear medicine decay quickly, in minutes to hours, have lower radiation levels than a typical X-ray or CT scan, and are eliminated in the urine or bowel movement."

However, as with any medical procedure or treatment, there are some potential health risks involved. SCKMC staff recommends that anyone considering a radiological diagnostic exam speak with their healthcare provider for a better understanding of why they may need an exam and which ones are best for their particular healthcare needs.