Discusses nuclear scanning test done to evaluate gallbladder function. Covers how to prepare for test and how it is done, including use of radioactive tracer substance. Includes info on risks and what test results may mean.
A gallbladder scan is a
nuclear scanning test that is done to check
gallbladder function. The scan can find blockage in the
tubes (bile ducts) that lead from the liver to the gallbladder and small
During a gallbladder scan, a
radioactive tracer substance is injected into a vein
in the arm. The liver removes the tracer from the bloodstream and adds it to
the bile that normally flows through the bile ducts to the gallbladder. The
gallbladder then releases the tracer into the beginning of the small intestine.
A special camera (gamma) takes pictures of the tracer as it moves through the
liver, bile ducts, gallbladder, and small intestine.
Why It Is Done
A gallbladder scan is done to:
Help determine the cause of pain in the upper
right side of the belly.
Check the function of the
gallbladder. A gallbladder
ultrasound may be done before a gallbladder scan to
help find structural problems in the gallbladder. If the ultrasound is normal,
a gallbladder scan often is done to check gallbladder
Find blockage of the tubes (bile
ducts) leading from the liver to the gallbladder and small intestine
Look for leakage of bile after surgery or an
How To Prepare
Before your gallbladder scan, tell your
You are or might be pregnant.
are breast-feeding. The radioactive tracer used in this test can get into
your breast milk. Do not breast-feed your baby for 2 days after this test.
During this time, you can give your baby breast milk you stored before the test,
or you can give formula. Discard the breast milk you pump for 2 days after the test.
Within the past 4 days, you have had an X-ray test using
barium contrast material (such as a
barium enema) or have taken a medicine (such as
Pepto-Bismol) that contains bismuth. Barium and bismuth can interfere with test
Do not eat or drink for 4 to 12 hours before a gallbladder
scan. Your doctor will tell you how long depending on what the test is being
You may be asked to sign a consent form before the test.
Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the
test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will mean. To help
you understand the importance of this test, fill out the
medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).
You will need
to remove any jewelry that might interfere with the scan. You may need to take
off all or most of your clothes, depending on which area is being examined (you
may be allowed to keep on your underwear if it does not interfere with the
test). You will be given a cloth or paper covering to use during the
During the test
The technologist cleans the site on your arm where the
radioactive tracer will be injected. A small amount of the radioactive tracer
is then injected.
You will lie on your back on a table and a large
scanning camera will be positioned closely above your abdomen. After the
radioactive tracer is injected, the camera will scan for radiation released by
the tracer and produce pictures as the tracer passes through your liver and
into your gallbladder and small intestine. The first pictures will be taken
right after the injection. The pictures may be continuous (like a video) or may
be taken once in a while for up to the next 1½ hours. Each scan takes only a
few minutes. You need to lie very still during each scan to avoid blurring the
pictures. The camera does not produce any radiation, so you are not exposed to
any more radiation while the scan is being done.
(cholecystokinin) that stimulates the gallbladder may also be injected into
your vein during the scans. The pictures taken after this injection can help
determine whether the gallbladder is functioning normally. Computer analysis of
the data may be used to check gallbladder function. You may be asked to
answer questions about your reaction to the cholecystokinin. Occasionally
medicine (morphine sulfate) is given to help diagnose inflammation of the
gallbladder scan takes about 1 to 2 hours.
After the test
Depending upon your results, additional scans may be
taken up to a day later. If you need to return for another gallbladder scan,
you should not eat any fatty foods before you return.
How It Feels
You may feel nothing at all from the
needle puncture when the tracer is injected, or you may feel a brief sting or
pinch as the needle goes through the skin. Otherwise, a gallbladder scan is
usually painless. You may find it hard to remain still during the scan.
Ask for a pillow or blanket to make yourself as comfortable as possible before
the scan begins.
The test may be uncomfortable if you are having
abdominal pain. Try to relax by breathing slowly and deeply.
cholecystokinin is used during the test, it may cause nausea or abdominal pain.
The technologist may ask you about changes in your pain during the test.
Allergic reactions to the radioactive
tracer are rare. Most of the tracer will be eliminated from your body (through
your urine or stool) within a day, so be sure to promptly flush the toilet and
thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water. The amount of radiation is so
small that it is not a risk for people to come in contact with you following
Occasionally, some soreness or swelling may develop at
the injection site. These symptoms can usually be relieved by applying moist,
warm compresses to your arm.
There is always a slight risk of
damage to cells or tissue from being exposed to any radiation, including the
low level of radiation released by the radioactive tracer used for this
The radioactive tracer flows evenly through
the liver and then into the gallbladder and the beginning of the small
The gallbladder is normal in size, shape,
The tracer may not be removed normally from
the bloodstream by the liver, meaning possible liver disease.
The gallbladder does not contract or empty normally.
The tracer may not reach the gallbladder,
meaning inflammation or blockage of the duct by a
The tracer may not reach the beginning of
the small intestine (duodenum), meaning blockage of a bile duct by a stone,
a tumor, infection, or inflammation of the
Pain occurs when the gallbladder empties
What Affects the Test
Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:
Pregnancy. A gallbladder scan is not usually
done during pregnancy because the radiation could damage the developing baby
Barium and bismuth. If a
gallbladder scan is needed, it should be done before any tests that use barium
(such as a
The inability to remain
still during the test.
Being allergic to morphine.
What To Think About
ultrasound test may also be done to find problems of
the gallbladder. The ultrasound test provides more information about the shape
and size of the gallbladder than a nuclear scan does. But the nuclear scan can
provide information about how well the gallbladder is functioning and whether
the bile ducts are blocked. To learn more, see the topic
The results of a
gallbladder scan should be interpreted along with your symptoms and the results
of other tests, such as a physical examination and an ultrasound. Abnormal
results from a gallbladder scan do not necessarily mean that the gallbladder
needs to be removed.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.