Bone Scan Test – Should You Be Scared?

The last trip to my doctor concerning my hip pain has put a new experience in my life. The doctor said I should have a bone scan. OK. I had a bone density test a few years ago and I assumed it was the same thing. But this time the doctor mentioned something about a radiotracer. Whatever that was, I did not know.

My appointment was scheduled for the next morning at 8 a.m. I was not told to do anything different that night. I decided that a little knowledge is best so I began to search the Internet to see what was going to happen to me the next day. There was much to be learned as I my mind scanned the many pages of information.

The first thing I needed to find out was what a bone scan is. Here is the answer I found.This test is a nuclear scanning test. The word nuclear scared me! The test is used to find new bone growth or breakdown. The test can identify damage to the bone, detect cancer that has spread to the bones, and check conditions that affect the bone such as infection or trauma. OK. So why not give me just an x-ray? Bone scans can detect things months earlier than an x-ray.

The first thing that would happed to me is a I would be given an injection in the vein in my arm. This injection would contain a radioactive tracer. Again a flag came up in my mind! Radioactive! Did that mean I would glow in the dark? Would I be safe?

Once the tracer was in my vein it would travel throughout my bloodstream and then go into my bones. If an area of the bone absorbed little or no tracer than it could mean I had an infection or perhaps a certain kind of cancer. These spots are called “cold” spots because they lack a blood supply. But if I had “hot spots” than it could mean there had been rapid bone growth or repair and it could mean there was a tumor, a fracture or an infection there.

Now I was getting really nervous about this. I was thinking this was just a routine test to see why I had hip pain for the last few months. All of this knowledge was telling me they might be looking for something more serious than just bursitis in my hip.

I had to be at the hospital by 8 a.m. I got there just before 8 and was immediately taken to the Nuclear medicine room. There was a huge warning sign on the door. “Caution! Radioactive Materials”. This did not help my nervousness at all!

The lady asked me to sit down and she had me sign my life away. It seemed like that anyway but it was just a release paper allowing them to put something radioactive in my body. I hesitated momentarily but then decided it had to be done. Signed and quickly done before I changed my mind.

The needle was not big. The radioactive tracer was in a fat little bottle. In my mind I am thinking that is the smallest radio I have ever seen! But of course I knew there had to be something in the liquid that was radioactive and it had nothing to do with it being a radio. I was trying to calm my nerves by making jokes to myself. In just seconds the injection was over. It did not hurt or burn. A small band-aid on my arm and I am done. The lady told me to go home and come back in 3 hours. I also had to drink a lot of liquids so I could wash this radioactive material throughout my body and into my bones.

I drank at least a quart of water in the 3 hours I was gone. I wanted to make sure this test went right so I would not have to do it again. I had read that having this test was like having 200 x-rays so I knew this would not be a good test to repeat very often!

I arrived at 10:50 a.m. and the lady was there again to greet me. She said I had to make sure my bladder was empty as she could not take some of the pictures unless it was. I assured her it was. The walk from the waiting room to the Nuclear medicine department is a long walk. I wondered if the room where I went was in the back of the hospital to keep radiation away from the majority of the people. Perhaps the rooms are lead lined wall. I was curious to know but I was too nervous to ask. I thought that if this lady does this test many times a day than it has to be safe to be in this room with no protection on. She just had a regular hospital uniform on. I now think the only danger is the bottles of radiotracers and not the room or camera itself as the lady sit in the room the whole time I was there and she had no protection on.

The test was about to begin. I did not have to change into a hospital robe. I wore the street clothes I had on and kept my shoes on. She had me remove my glasses but not my rings or earrings.

I had looked at a picture of this machine on the Internet so the looks of the machine did not surprise me. I was glad it was not a tube I had to go into because I cannot stand anything surrounding me or anything on top of my face. There was a metal table that the lady had put a sheet and pillow on. She had me lay down on my back. Then she positioned me in the middle of the table. The large camera machine was at the bottom of my feet at this time. The machine was very impressive. It was large and heavy looking and it looked to be two different pieces for top and bottom. The color was mostly white.

Once I was on the machine and positioned, the lady took a strap that had Velcro on the ends and she wrapped it around my wrists as my arms lay at my side. I felt very out of control then because I was constrained. It did not hurt and I assumed she did it to make sure my hands stayed away from where the pictures were being taken. I would later find out that there was another reason for the constraint.

Next she covered me with a white blanket. She said the scan would take 27 and �½ minutes. I could handle that. I was just going to be pictures of my hip I thought. I was wrong. This is a full body scan. She than told me the camera was coming over my head and would sit over my head for 4 and �½ minutes and slowly scan its way down my body. Now I am not doing so well. I can only hope that the camera is up in the air away from my face as I already mentioned, I cannot stand anything close to my face.

The camera came closer and closer and it was so close to my face it felt like I could touch it with my tongue but I believe it was actually 3 or 4 inches from my face. I thought I would vomit since I was getting panic stricken at this point. This huge flat surfaced camera was right over me and all I could see was white with black lines that were used to measure where the camera should be I think. The lines made me dizzy to look at them. I tried to shut my eyes but that made it worse for me. The lady started playing some music. She must play the kind of music according to how old a patient is. This music was before my time. It was music from the 50’s or maybe even the 40’s. I think it was suppose to make me relax. It did not. I kept thinking about this thing over my face. At one point I turned my head just so I could see the wall. She said not to do that. My head had to be straight on. OK. I wanted this over with so I did as she said. I did glance from side to side with my eyes just so I did not have to look at those lines on the camera. The 4 and Ã?½ minutes seemed like forever to me. I kept reminding myself that years ago I would be having exploratory surgery instead of pictures taken so I should be grateful at the least that no blood was involved! My mouth was very dry and I could hardly swallow but I knew this was just my nerves acting up.

The machine moved very, very slowly but at last I saw that it was just about to go past my eyes and finally I could see the ceiling. What a relief that was. But then a strange thing happened. I am not sure if the table moved or if I was being moved but whatever was under my arms and hands was no longer there. It was a very skinny table now. Now I know why she tied my hands together. If she had not than my arms would have fallen off the table. It was kind of weird to be on the edge like that but apparently that is what needs to happen in order to take the pictures of the rest of my body.

Soon that part of the test was over. She said I needed to empty my bladder again as it had filled back up. I was allowed to walk to the rest room. It was a relief to get off the hard table. I have hip pain so laying on that hard metal table for so long was not the easiest thing to do.

When I came back from the restroom she had me sit on the edge of the skinny part of the table with my hands at my side. She then took more pictures. I think these were of my butt as the camera was under the table at this point I think. I could have been behind me. I was not sure. I did not care where the camera was as long as it was not in my face any longer.

She told me to go to the little waiting room near Nuclear medicine and she would print the pictures. After the printing was done, which took maybe 5 minutes, she came to get me and gave me copies of the pictures to bring to my doctor. She walked me back to the x-ray waiting room and told me to wait again to make sure the pictures were OK before I left. Again a quick 5 minute wait and than I got to go home. This test will take about 4 hours out of your day from the time of the first injection till the pictures are ready to go. Of course you do have the 3 hours when you can do what you want but with so much water to drink there is a not a lot you can do unless you are close to a restroom!

Are there risks to this test? If you are pregnant or nursing this test may be postponed because of the radiation.
Side effects are rare but the extreme side effects could be a rash, swelling or a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).
All the radiation from the injection will leave your body in 2 to 3 days.

Would I do this test again? Yes. Would I do anything differently. Yes. I would ask for an anxiety pill so I could handle the machine over my face easier. What is the worse part? I have to wait 5 days until my doctor’s appointment to find out what happened. Hopefully nothing is wrong and I just have bursitis.

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