SPECT Scan

by Kevin Pederson


SPECT scan is a single-photon emission computerized tomography procedure to analyze the internal organs of the body. A SPECT scan uses a radioactive substance and a special type of camera that creates pictures of the internal organs. SPECT scan is a type of nuclear imaging test that shows how the internal organs work in the form of three-dimensional images – for example it can show the areas of the brain that are more or less active (seizure brain scan movie or seizure scan), how the blood flows to the heart or other organs (nuclear stress test).

SPECT scan can be recommended by a specialist to diagnose

  1. Brain disorders like head injury, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, memory loss and migraine.
  2. Cancer – both primary tumor and metastasis (cancer that has spread to other organs of the body).
  3. Heart disorders – to detect number of blockages in the heart arteries, chest pain and heart attack.

Depending on the condition there may be some restrictions to be followed, for instance certain medication or caffeine may be restricted before a SPECT scan of the heart.

SPECT scan procedure

A radioactive substance is injected or administered in the form of intravenous infusion in the vein before the scan is performed. A tracer (radioactive substance) is absorbed more by the more active areas in the body, like cancer cell will absorb more radioactive tracer then other normal cells or the area of the brain causing seizure will absorb more tracer than the other areas in the brain. A person may be asked to lie quietly for 15 minutes or more in the room and will receive a radioactive tracer depending on the type of procedure.

The gamma cameras in the large SPECT machine take pictures of the internal organs and determine the amount of radioactive tracer absorbed by the body. Most scans take 30-90 minutes depending on the procedure. The test doesn’t hurt, but some level of discomfort may be experienced.

Risk of SPECT scan

A person may experience pain, swelling or bleeding in the area where the needle is inserted to inject or infuse radioactive tracer. Allergic reactions are possible, so it should be informed to the specialist (if any) before undergoing the test.

SPECT scan is not recommended for pregnant and lactating women, as there are chances of the radioactive tracer passing to the fetus.

Fluid intake should be increased to encourage the radioactive tracer to pass through urine.

This procedure exposes a person’s body to radiation levels similar to that of a person’s natural exposure to radiation in environment in one year.


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