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A bone scan is a highly sensitive test that can help diagnose fractures, tumors, infection, osteomyelitis or osteoarthritis. Because the bone scan measures activity, it can detect problems before they show structural changes on X-rays. Recent fractures will show increased activity and old fractures will not. Increased activity shows an abnormality that may need to be followed by other imaging technologies — such as X-ray, computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging — to determine the nature of the problem.
You may eat and drink normally until the test. Before the test, you will be asked questions about your history of broken bones, arthritis and cancer.
The bone scan involves two steps:
- Radioactive tracer — less than that used for an X-ray — is injected, usually in the arm. The tracer is given about three hours to circulate throughout the body. During this time, you will be encouraged to drink as much fluid as you can. The extra fluid will increase the tracer uptake in bone throughout your body.
- You will be placed on a table and a gamma camera, which resembles a regular X-ray scanner, will sweep over your body. This may take about 30 minutes. The computer will record an image of the concentration of the tracer throughout your body.
The test is not painful, but it involves lying flat on a hard table for 30 minutes. Please advise your physician or the technician before the injection of the tracer if lying on the table will be a problem.
Before the bone scan, you should let your physician know whether you have any allergies, if you are pregnant or if you are nursing.