Diagnosing Parathyroid Conditions

The parathyroid glands regulate the body's calcium balance, keeping it in a specific range for bone health and general well-being. When the parathyroid over produces its hormone due to a benign growth or overgrowth of all four glands, the result is bone loss and a disruption of many organ systems. Learn more about Hyperparathyroidism.

Preparing for a Parathyroid Exam

As the largest thyroid/parathyroid program in Denver, our program is highly experienced in determining the right diagnostic tools to use at the right time. Below are the answers to a few questions you might have about a parathyroid exam your doctor has ordered.

My Doctor has ordered a test to look at my parathyroid gland. What should I expect?

At Rose Medical Center we do two exams in conjunction with each other to look for abnormal parathyroid glands. One is a Nuclear Medicine scan and the other is an Ultrasound (also called a Sonogram).

What do I need to do to prepare for these exams?

We request that you have nothing to eat 2 hours prior to your appointment. There is no other preparation required.

How long will these exams take?

This will be a long day and you should expect about 7 hours total from start to finish of both tests.

What happens when I arrive at the Radiology Department?

You will be registered at the front desk. A Nuclear Medicine Technologist will then escort you to the Nuclear Medicine Department where you will be given a pill of iodine. This is a special type of iodine that will have a small amount of radioactive material that will emit gamma rays (similar to x-ray). When the iodine collects in your thyroid the gamma rays will allow the thyroid gland to be visible with a particular camera. The Nuclear Medicine Technologist will also review any pertinent history with you at this time.

What happens after ingesting the iodine pill?

You will have 2 hours of free time; you can wait at the hospital in our waiting room, you can return home, or run errands. We ask that you do not eat during this 2 hour period, but water is ok.

When do I return to the hospital?

After your 2 hour break you return to the Nuclear Medicine Department. You will receive a small injection through an IV in your arm or hand that will contain another radioactive material that will go to both your parathyroid and thyroid. You will lie down on a table with a camera over your neck for about 45 minutes of imaging.

Why does the scan take so long?

We are using very low doses of radioactive material and the parathyroid glands are very small. Thus, it takes a long time to collect enough data to compile an image.

When is the next imaging portion?

You will now have a 3-hour break! During which time you can eat, go home, run errands, etc…. Then you return to the Nuclear Medicine Department for a second 45 minute scan similar to the first exam.

When will I have the Ultrasound?

Once the second Nuclear Medicine scan is complete the Nuclear Medicine Technologist will then take you to meet your Sonographer. The ultrasound should take between 30 minutes and 1 hour.

Why do I need 2 different radiology imaging exams?

These two exams compliment each other. We like to try to see the abnormal parathyroid on both exams but often it is only identified on one or the other test.

Are these examinations considered dangerous to me?

These examinations are very safe. The Nuclear Medicine examination does use radiation but it is at very low dose and is safe to you and your family. As with all radiation we try to limit its use so that we only use it when necessary. All radiation carries with it a very low increased risk of malignancy.

How will the radioactive dye get out of my thyroid and parathyroid?

The radioisotopes decay naturally and will stop emitting gamma rays within a short period of time after the examination.

Who will interpret my imaging results?

A board-certified Medical Doctor who specializes in Diagnostic Radiology and subspecializes in imaging of the thyroid and parathyroid glands.

When will my doctor have the results?

Within 24 hours of the end of your examination, and often before.

What post exam instructions are there?

You may resume normal daily activities and diet immediately following the scan.

Download a PDF about Parathyroid Imaging