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Nuclear Gastrointestinal Scans

By Walter W. Chan, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine;Director, Center for Gastrointestinal Motility, Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Endoscopy, Harvard Medical School;Brigham and Women's Hospital

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Bleeding scans

Bleeding scans use 99mTc-labeled RBCs, or occasionally 99mTc-labeled colloid, to determine the origin of lower GI hemorrhage before surgery or angiography. Active bleeding sites are identified by focal areas of tracer that conform to bowel anatomy, increase with time, and move with peristalsis. Bleeding scans are useful mainly for colonic bleeding in patients with significant hemorrhage and an unprepared bowel, in whom endoscopic visualization is difficult.

Gastric emptying

Gastric emptying can be measured by having the patient ingest a radiolabeled meal (solid or liquid) and observing its passage out of the stomach with a gamma camera. Because this test cannot differentiate physical obstruction from gastroparesis, further diagnostic studies typically are done if emptying is delayed. The test also is useful in monitoring response to promotility drugs (eg, metoclopramide, erythromycin).

Meckel scans

A Meckel scan identifies ectopic gastric mucosa (as in a Meckel diverticulum) by using an injection of 99mTc pertechnetate, which is taken up by mucus-secreting cells of the gastric mucosa. Focal uptake outside of the stomach and in the small bowel indicates a Meckel diverticulum.