PET Scan

What is a PET scan?

A PET scan is a series of detailed pictures of your body that are taken after your healthcare provider injects a small amount of radioactive material into your blood. PET scans are especially useful for looking at the brain or the heart and for the spread of some cancers.

When is it used?

A PET scan can be used to diagnose diseases or conditions. It may be done to find:

  • Early coronary artery disease
  • Damaged or scarred heart muscle from a heart attack
  • Areas affected by a stroke or blood clot
  • Changes in the brain related to diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, or epilepsy
  • The effect of drugs on the heart and brain
  • Mental disorders, like schizophrenia
  • Abnormal tissue, including cancerous and noncancerous tumors
  • Problems with blood flow

How do I prepare for this procedure?

  • You may or may not need to take your regular medicines the day of the procedure. Tell your healthcare provider about all medicines and supplements that you take. Some products may increase your risk of side effects. Ask your healthcare provider if you need to avoid taking any medicine or supplements before the procedure.
  • Tell your provider if you have any food, medicine, or other allergies such as latex.
  • Your healthcare provider will tell you when to stop eating and drinking before the procedure. Eating affects blood sugar levels and the PET scan results will not be accurate if your blood sugar is too high.
  • Follow any other instructions your provider gives you.
  • Ask any questions you have before the procedure. You should understand what your healthcare provider is going to do. You have the right to make decisions about your healthcare and to give permission for any tests or procedures.

What happens during the procedure?

This procedure is usually done at an outpatient clinic or hospital.

First you will be given a small amount of radioactive material, called a tracer. Depending on what part of your body is being studied, the tracer will be injected into your vein, swallowed with a small amount of liquid, or breathed in through a mask. Over the next hour, the tracer will be absorbed by the parts of your body that are being studied, making it easier for your healthcare provider to see any abnormal areas. Then you will lie down on a moving table that slides into the PET scan machine, which is a large, hollow tube. You will be asked to rest quietly and try not to move or talk while the technologist takes pictures.

What happens after the procedure?

You can go home soon after the test.

You should drink plenty of fluids to help your body get rid of the radioactive material.

Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Ask your healthcare provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

What are the risks of this procedure?

Every procedure or treatment has risks. One possible risk of this procedure is an allergic reaction to the chemical used in the scan.

Ask your healthcare provider how this risk applies to you. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-01-06
Last reviewed: 2013-10-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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