1 What is a HIDA scan?

A hepatobiliary (HIDA) scan is an imaging procedure designed to make diagnoses of problems of the liver, gallbladder and bile ducts.

Also known as cholescintigraphy and hepatobiliary scintigraphy, a radioactive tracer is injected into your arm in this procedure.

This tracer travels through your bloodstream into the liver where the bile producing cells absorb it. The tracer then travels with your bile into your gallbladder and through your bile ducts to your small intestine.

A special device known as a nuclear medicine scanner (gamma camera) tracks the flow of the tracer from your liver into your gallbladder and further into the small intestine and creates computer images.

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2 Reasons for Procedure

The main reason for a HIDA scan is the evaluation of your gallbladder. It is also used to observe the bile-excreting function of your liver and to track the flow of bile from your liver into your small intestine.

A HIDA scan is often used in combination with X-ray and ultrasound.

A HIDA scan might be helpful in diagnosing the following conditions:

  • Gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis)
  • Bile duct obstruction
  • Congenital abnormalities in the bile ducts, such as biliary atresia
  • Assessment of liver transplant
  • Postoperative complications, such as bile leaks and fistulas.

Your doctor might make use of the HIDA scan as part of a test to measure the rate at which bile is released from your gallbladder (gallbladder ejection fraction).

3 Potential Risks

Only a small number of risks can be associated with a HIDA scan.

These risks include:

  • Allergic reactions to medications containing radioactive tracers that are utilized for the scan.
  • Bruising at the site of the injection.
  • Radiation exposure, which is small.

Tell your doctor if there is any chance you could be pregnant or if you are breastfeeding. In most cases, nuclear medicine tests, such as the HIDA scan, are not performed on pregnant women because of potential harm to the fetus.

4 Preparing for your Procedure

In preparing for your HIDA scan, you must follow your doctor’s orders. 

Your doctor is likely to ask you the following:

  • Too fast for 2 hours before your HIDA scan.
  • You might have permission to drink clear liquids.
  • About any medications and supplements, you take.

You might be asked to do the following:

  • Change into a hospital gown.
  • Leave jewelry and other metal accessories at home or remove them prior to the procedure.

5 What to Expect

Here’s what you can expect during and after your HIDA scan.

During the procedure

  • Your health care team will put you on a table, usually on your back, and proceed to inject the radioactive tracer into a vein in your arm. You might feel pressure or a cold sensation while the radioactive tracer is being injected into your body.
  • During the test, you may be given an intravenous injection of the drug sincalide (Kinevac), which makes your gallbladder contract and empty. Morphine, another drugs is sometimes given during a HIDA scan, makes the gallbladder easier to be seen.
  • A gamma camera is positioned over your abdomen in order to take pictured of the race as it moves through your body. This process usually lasts an hour, during which you will be required to stay still. Tell your team if you become uncomfortable. You might be able to lessen the discomfort by taking deep breaths.
  • On a computer, the radiologist will monitor the progress of the radioactive tracer through your body. In certain cases, you might need additional imaging within 24 hours if original images are unsatisfactory.

After the procedure

In most cases, you can return to your daily activities after your scan. The small amount of radioactive tracer will lose its reactivity or pass through your urine and stool over the next day or two. Drink plenty of water to help flush it out of your system.

6 Procedure Results

In order to make a diagnosis, your doctor will make a consideration of your signs and symptoms and other test results with the results of your HIDA scan.

Results of your HIDA scan include:

  • Normal: The radioactive tracer freely moved with the bile from your liver into your gallbladder and small intestine.
  • The slow movement of radioactive tracer: A slow movement of the radioactive tracer might be an indication of a blockage or obstruction, or an inefficiency in liver function.
  • No radioactive tracer was seen in the gallbladder: The inability to see the radioactive tracer in your gallbladder might be a sign of acute inflammation (cholecystitis).
  • Abnormally low gallbladder ejection fraction: The quantity of tracer leaving your gallbladder is low after you have been given a drug to empty it, which might be an indication of chronic inflammation (chronic cholecystitis).
  • Radioactive tracer detected in other areas of the body: Radioactive tracer found outside your biliary system might be an indication of a leak.