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Kidney Scan

A kidney scan is a nuclear scanning test that is done to check kidney camera.gif function or appearance.

During a scan to look at kidney function, a radioactive tracer substance is injected into a vein in the arm and then travels through the bloodstream to the kidneys. The tracer flows through the blood vessels in the kidneys camera.gif and then is excreted into the urine. A special camera (gamma) takes pictures of the tracer in the kidneys. This helps show cell activity and function in the kidneys.

Many different kinds of kidney scans can be done. The types of kidney scans include a scan that looks at how blood flows to and through the kidneys, a scan that looks at the shape and size of the kidneys, and a scan that looks at how urine is made and flows out of the kidneys. Sometimes a doctor will do multiple scans at one time (for example, a triple renal study). Different radioactive tracers are used depending on what kind of scan is being done.

Areas of the kidneys where the tracer shows up in higher-than-normal amounts, such as in some types of cancer, result in bright or "hot" spots in the pictures. Areas where the tracer does not show up appear as dark or "cold" spots. Cold spots can mean narrowing or blockage of the blood vessels, pockets of fluid (cysts), some cancers, scarring, or pockets of infection (abscesses).

The amount of time it takes for the tracer to move through the kidney, collect in the urine, and drain into the bladder can also be seen in a kidney scan camera.gif. This may be done to see how well the kidneys are working.

A kidney scan may be done instead of a kidney X-ray test called an intravenous pyelogram (IVP) for people who are allergic to the special dye (contrast material) used during the IVP.

Why It Is Done

A kidney scan is done to:

  • Check the blood flow through the kidneys. Abnormal flow may mean narrowed renal arteries that can cause a type of high blood pressure called renovascular hypertension.
  • See how a transplanted kidney is working.
  • Check the extent of kidney damage caused by an injury or infection.
  • Find an obstruction in the kidney or ureter camera.gif, such as from a kidney stone.
  • Find growths in the kidneys (rare).
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 09, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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