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What is a GI bleeding scan?

A GI bleeding scan is an imaging test that can help detect the origin of your child's gastrointestinal bleeding.

During the test, blood will be drawn from your child's vein. The drawn blood will be mixed with a radiopharmaceutical called Technetium-99m. The blood cells will then be reinjected into your child's vein by the same technologist who took your child’s blood.

A special camera, called a gamma camera, is used to take pictures of the abdomen once the blood cells have been reinjected.

Frequently asked questions

When might a GI bleeding scan be needed?

A GI bleeding scan may be done when your child is vomiting blood or passing blood in her stool. The scan can detect and localize a small amount of bleeding providing it occurs during the time of the exam.

How should I prepare my child for a GI bleeding scan?
  • Your child cannot have anything to eat or drink four hours prior to study.
  • It is important to not have had any barium studies 48 hours prior to having a GI bleeding scan.
  • It is helpful to give your child a simple explanation as to why a GI bleeding scan is needed and assure him or her that you will be with her for the entire time.
  • You may want to bring your child's favorite book, toy, or comfort object to use during waiting times.
  • We have various DVDs to choose from for your child to watch during the procedure or you can bring one from home.
What should I expect when I bring my child to the hospital for a GI bleeding scan?

When you arrive, please go to the Nuclear Medicine check-in desk on the second floor of the main hospital. A clinical intake coordinator will check in your child and verify her registration information.

What happens during a GI bleeding scan?
  • You will be greeted by one of our nuclear medicine technologists who will explain to you and your child what will happen during the study.
  • The technologist will place an IV catheter into one of your child's veins and withdraw 3 ml of blood.
  • The radiopharmaceutical is mixed with the withdrawn blood.
  • After 30 minutes, the red blood cells are reinjected into your child's IV.
  • Your child will lie on his or her back on the exam table.
  • Pictures of your child's abdomen will start immediately and last for about an hour.
  • It is important that your child remains as still as possible during imaging for the best quality images.
  • Additional imaging may be requested by the nuclear medicine physician and may be obtained at various intervals as needed, up to about 24 hours.
Will my child feel anything during a GI bleeding scan?

Your child may experience some discomfort associated with the insertion of the intravenous needle. The needle used for the procedure is small. Once the radiopharmaceutical is injected and the scan is complete, the needle will be withdrawn and a bandage will be placed over the site of the injection. The area where the injection was given may be a little sore.

Although the camera may appear large and intimidating, it does not touch your child.

Is a GI bleeding scan safe?

We are committed to ensuring that your child receives the smallest radiation dose needed to obtain the desired result.

  • Nuclear medicine has been used on babies and children for more than 40 years with no known adverse effects from the low doses employed.
  • The radiopharmaceutical contains a very tiny amount of radioactive molecules, but we believe that the benefit to your child's health outweighs potential radiation risk.
  • The camera used to obtain the images does not produce any radiation.
  • It is safe to be in the room with your child if you are pregnant or nursing.
What happens after the GI bleeding scan?

Once the GI bleeding scan is complete, the images will be evaluated for quality. If the scan is adequate, your child will be free to leave and resume normal activity.

One of the Children's nuclear medicine physicians will review your child's images and create a report of the findings and diagnosis.

How do I learn the results of the GI bleeding scan?

The nuclear medicine physician will provide a report to the doctor who ordered your child's GI bleeding scan. Your child's doctor will then discuss the results with you.

How Boston Children's Hospital approaches GI bleeding scans

Our Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging staff are committed to providing a safe, comfortable, and child-friendly atmosphere with:

  • Specialized nuclear medicine physicians with expertise in interpreting GI bleeding scans in children of all ages
  • Certified nuclear medicine technologists with years of experience imaging children and teens
  • Child Life specialists to help families prior to and during exams
  • Equipment adapted for pediatric use, which means age-appropriate care for children
  • Protocols that keep radiation exposure as low as reasonably achievable while assuring high image quality

Gastrointestinal Bleeding Scan | Programs & Services