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What is a hepatobiliary scan?

A hepatobiliary scan:

  • images the liver
  • shows the flow of bile from the liver through the hepatic ducts (including the gallbladder) emptying in the small bowel

The scan is done to evaluate the function of the liver in making and excreting bile. It also evaluates the drainage system (bile ducts) and gallbladder for possible blockage or malfunction.

A radiopharmaceutical called Technetium-99m Mebrofeninis is injected into your child’s veins. Technetium-99m Mebrofeninis a tiny amount of radioactive molecules in it.

A special camera, called a gamma camera, is used to take pictures of the gallbladder once the radiopharmaceutical has been injected.

When might a hepatobiliary scan be needed?

A hepatobiliary scan can help:

  • Assess abnormalities in liver function
  • Diagnose cholecystitis
  • Evaluate upper abdominal pain
  • Determine causes of jaundice
  • Identify obstruction in the gallbladder or blockages of the bile duct
  • Detect biliary atresia

How should I prepare my child for a hepatobiliary scan?

  • Your child must not eat or drink beginning four hours before the scan.
  • Infants less than 6 months old being evaluated for biliary atresia or neonatal hepatitis can eat and drink as normal.
  • It is important that your child does not have any barium studies within 48 hours prior to the exam.
  • In newborns, premedication with Phenobarbital is commonly used to enhance the flow of bile by the liver.

It is helpful to give your child a simple explanation as to why a hepatobiliary scan is needed and assure him her that you will be with him for the entire time.

  • You may want to bring your child’s favorite book, toy, or comforting object to use during the imaging time.
  • 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 hepatobiliary 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 his registration information.

What happens during a hepatobiliary 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.
  • A tiny amount of the radiopharmaceutical is injected into one of your child's veins through an IV and imaging will begin immediately.
  • After one hour of imaging, a nuclear medicine physician will determine if additional imaging is needed.
  • If so, your child may need to be administered cholecystokinin (CCK), which will stimulate the gallbladder to contract, and imaging will begin for another 30 minutes. The CCK is administered intravenously through the same IV that was placed for the radiopharmaceutical administration.
  • Additional images may be necessary at various other times depending on the results of the previous images and the condition under evaluation.
  • It is important that your child remains as still as possible during all imaging to obtain the best quality images.

Will my child feel anything during a hepatobiliary 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 imaging is completed, the intravenous catheter (IV) is withdrawn and a bandage is 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 hepatobiliary 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 for you to be in the room with your child if you are pregnant or nursing.

What happens after the hepatobiliary scan?

Once the hepatobiliary 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 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 hepatobiliary scan?

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

How do we approach hepatobiliary scans?

The Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging Program is committed to providing a safe, comfortable, and child-friendly atmosphere with:

  • Specialized nuclear medicine physicians with expertise in interpreting hepatobiliary scans in children of all ages
  • Certified nuclear medicine technologists trained in nuclear medicine procedures, with years of experience in 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

Contact us

To schedule an appointment at any of the Department of Radiology’s locations, please call 617-919-SCAN (7226).

Hepatobiliary Scan | Programs & Services