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Liver scan

A liver scan uses a radioactive material to check how well the liver or spleen is working.

How the Test is Performed

The health care provider will inject a radioactive material called a radioisotope into one of your veins. After the liver has soaked up the material, you will be asked to lie on a table under the scanner.

The scanner can tell where the radioactive material has gathered in the body. Images are displayed on a computer. You may be asked to remain still, or to change positions during the scan.

How to Prepare for the Test

You must sign a consent form. You will be asked to remove jewelry, dentures, and other metals that can affect the scanner's functions.

You may need to wear a hospital gown.

How the Test will Feel

You will feel a sharp prick when the needle is inserted into your vein. You should not feel anything during the actual scan. If you have problems lying still or are very anxious, you may be given a mild medicine (sedative) to help you relax.

Why the Test is Performed

The test can provide information about liver and spleen function. It is also used to help confirm other test results.

The most common use for a liver scan is to diagnose a condition called benign focal nodular hyperplasia, or FNH.

Normal Results

The liver and spleen should look normal in size, shape, and location. The radioisotope is absorbed evenly.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Risks

Radiation from any scan is always a slight concern. The level of radiation in this procedure is less than that of most x-rays. It is not considered to be enough to cause harm to the average person.

Pregnant or nursing women should consult their health care provider before any exposure to radiation.

Considerations

Other tests may be needed to confirm the findings of this test. These may include:

  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Abdominal CT scan
  • Liver biopsy
  • Liver flow study

Instead of a liver scan, CT or MRI scans are more often used to evaluate the liver and spleen.

Alternative Names

Technetium scan; Liver technetium sulfur colloid scan; Liver-spleen radionuclide scan; Nuclear scan - technetium; Nuclear scan - liver or spleen

References

Lidofsky S. Jaundice. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 20.

Lomas DJ. The liver. In: Adam A, Dixon A, eds. Grainger and Allison's Diagnostic Radiology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 35.

Update Date: 1/13/2013

Updated by: Jason Levy, MD, Northside Radiology Associates, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

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