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What is a pulmonary blood flow scan?

A pulmonary blood flow scan (or lung scan) is a diagnostic nuclear medicine test that provides images of the blood flow in the lungs. It can show areas of the lungs that are not receiving enough blood.

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

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

When might a pulmonary blood flow scan be needed?

A lung scan can help assess pulmonary blood flow in several conditions including:

  • Pre- and post-pulmonary angioplasty procedures
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Certain congenital abnormalities

How should I prepare my child for a pulmonary blood flow scan?

There is no special preparation necessary. It is helpful to give your child a simple explanation as to why a pulmonary blood flow scan is needed and assure him that you will be there for the entire time.

What should I expect when I bring my child to the hospital for a pulmonary blood flow 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 pulmonary blood flow 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 will be injected into one of your child's veins.
  • It is important that your child lay completely flat for the injection to ensure proper distribution of the radiopharmaceutical to the lungs.
  • The images will be taken immediately and will take less than five minutes.

Will my child feel anything during a pulmonary blood flow 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 Once the radiopharmaceutical is injected, the needle is withdrawn and a bandage is placed over the site of the injection.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 gamma camera may appear large and intimidating, it does not touch your child.

Is a pulmonary blood flow 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. 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 if pregnant or nursing.

What happens after the pulmonary blood flow scan?

Once the 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 Boston 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 pulmonary blood flow scan?

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

How do we approach pulmonary blood flow scans?

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

  • Specialized nuclear medicine physicians with expertise in interpreting pulmonary blood flow scans in children of all ages
  • Certified nuclear medicine technologists with years of experience imaging children and teens
  • 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).

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