A liver scan uses a radioactive material to help determine how well the liver or spleen is working.
Technetium scan; Liver technetium sulfur colloid scan; Liver-spleen radionuclide scan; Nuclear scan - technetium; Nuclear scan - liver or spleen
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, hold your breath for short period of time, 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 because they can interfere with 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 with the radioactive substance is inserted into your vein. You shouldn’t feel anything during the actual scan. If you have difficulty lying still or are very anxious, you may be given a mild 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 liver and spleen should appear normal in size, shape, and location. The radioisotope is absorbed evenly.
What abnormal results mean
- Budd-Chiari syndrome
- High pressure in the liver blood vessels (portal hypertension)
- Liver disease (such as cirrhosis or hepatitis)
- Superior vena cava obstruction
- Splenic infarction (tissue death)
Additional conditions under which the test may be performed:
What the risks are
There is some concern with radiation from any scan. However, the level of radiation in this procedure is less than that of most x-rays and is not considered significant enough to cause harm to the average person.
Pregnant or nursing women should consult their health care provider before any exposure to radiation, because fetuses and nursing babies are more sensitive to the effects of radiation.
Lidofsky S. Jaundice. In: Feldman M, Friedman L, Brandt L, eds. Sleisinger and Fordtran’s Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2006:chap 14.
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and George F Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.