Radionuclide Scanning of the Liver, Gallbladder, or Stomach

General Information:              

  • Description: Radionuclides are compounds that, when injected into the body, collect in certain organs making them visible by a special type of x-ray machine (gamma scintillation camera). Different radionuclides are used to examine the liver/spleen, gallbladder, stomach, or to locate a site of bleeding in the abdomen. The test is performed in a hospital or outpatient x-ray facility by a radiology technician. The results are interpreted by a Radiologist. Depending on which of the above organs are being examined, the test takes 30-90 minutes.
  • Discomfort – Minimal. The radionuclide has to be injected into a vein and there may be some discomfort associated with the infusion of the drug.         
  • Results – 2-3 days; within hours in emergency situations.                  
  • Risk of Procedure – Minimal risk related to radiation exposure. The test should not be performed if pregnant. Minimal risk of adverse reaction to the medication.                 
  • Risks of Procedure – None.                                 
  • Other Names – Liver/spleen scan or liver scan Gallbladder scan, HIDA scan, or biliary scan Gastric emptying scan or stomach scan RBC scan or bleeding scan.

Liver/Spleen Scan

  • To identify masses in the liver or spleen.
  • To identify cirrhosis of the liver.

Gallbladder Scan

  • To identify cholecystitis (an infected gallbladder).
  • To identify a blockage in the bile ducts draining the liver and gall bladder.
  • To determine how well the gall bladder is functioning.

Gastric Emptying Scan

  • To determine how well the stomach is emptying solids and liquids after they have been ingested.                 


  • You may be advised that nothing should be consumed for 8 hours before the test, except medications as directed by your doctor.
  • You may be asked to wear a hospital gown.


  • An intravenous line is placed to administer the radionuclide.
  • You lay on an x-ray table.
  • The radionuclide is injected into the vein. For a gastric emptying scan, you eat or drink the radionuclide mixed in food or liquid.
  • X-ray images are obtained after the radionuclide collects in the organ of interest.
  • Depending on which organ is being examined, additional medication may be injected via the vein.  

After the Procedure

  • You may dress and return to normal activities.

Factors Affecting Results

  • Movement can blur the images obtained by the x-ray machine.                  
  • Some diseases may interfere with the proper uptake of the nucleotide, limiting the test.


  • The test can determine how well the examined organ is functioning.
  • In a bleeding scan, a site of bleeding can be located when the rate of bleeding is very slow.
  • The tests are easily tolerated with minimal exposure to x-rays.


  • Although abnormal functioning or another abnormality may be identified, the exact cause of the abnormality is not determined by these tests.
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