A gallbladder scan is an imaging test to look at your gallbladder and see how well it is working. This test may also be called a liver-biliary scan because the doctor often looks at the liver at the same time. The liver is near the gallbladder and works closely with it.
A gallbladder scan is a type of nuclear imaging test. This means that a tiny amount of a radioactive matter is used during the scan. The radioactive matter (radioactive tracer) is absorbed by normal gallbladder tissue. The radioactive tracer sends out gamma rays. These are picked up by the scanner to make a picture of your gallbladder.
The areas of the gallbladder where the radioactive tracer collects in greater amounts are called "hot spots." The areas that do not absorb the tracer and appear less bright on the scan image are referred to as "cold spots."
You may need a gallbladder scan if your healthcare provider thinks you may have gallbladder disease (cholecystitis). Symptoms of gallbladder disease include:
A blood test may also show higher levels of liver enzymes.
A gallbladder scan may also help diagnose blockages in the biliary duct. It can also tell your healthcare provider how well your gallbladder is working.
Your provider may have other reasons to recommend a gallbladder scan.
The risk from the radioactive tracer is very low. The amount used in the test is very small. You may feel some slight discomfort when the tracer is injected. Allergic reactions to the tracer are rare, but they may happen.
Lying on the scanning table during the procedure may cause some discomfort or pain for certain people.
Tell your healthcare provider if you:
You may have other risks that are unique to you. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider before the procedure.
Certain things may make a gallbladder scan less accurate. These include:
Tell your healthcare provider if any of these apply to you.
The scan may also be less accurate if you have a blockage in your gallbladder. The blockage can stop the tracer from reaching your gallbladder. If you have a blockage in the ducts of the gallbladder or liver (biliary tree), the tracer will stop at that point.
You may have a gallbladder scan done as an outpatient or as part of your stay in a hospital. The way the test is done may vary depending on your condition and your healthcare provider's practices.
Generally, a gallbladder scan follows this process:
The gallbladder scan is not painful. But you may have some discomfort or pain from lying still during the test. This may because of recent surgery or a joint injury. The technologist will use all possible comfort measures and do the scan as quickly as possible to minimize any discomfort or pain.
You should move slowly when getting up from the scanner table to avoid any dizziness or lightheadedness.
You may be told to drink plenty of fluids and empty your bladder often for 1 to 2 days after the scan. This will help flush the radioactive tracer from your body.
The medical staff will check the IV site for any signs of redness or swelling. Tell your healthcare provider if you see any pain, redness, or swelling at the IV site after you go home. These may be signs of infection or another type of reaction.
If you were asked to fast before the scan, you may be offered food and drink after the test. Or you may be told to have a meal.
You may go back to your usual diet and activities as directed by your healthcare provider.
Your healthcare provider may give you additional instructions, depending on your situation.