What can I Expect During a SPECT Brain Scan?

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  • Written By: Jacquelyn Gilchrist
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 20 June 2019
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A single-proton emission computerized tomography (SPECT) brain scan is an imaging test, similar to an x-ray. This type of test, however, shows the doctor a three-dimensional image. It is painless and should take no more than one to two hours. If your doctor recommends that you undergo this scan, ask him what preparations may be necessary.

Unlike some other medical tests, a SPECT brain scan does not require you to take certain medications beforehand, eat a special diet, or refrain from eating or drinking. You will not need to have someone else drive you home, as no anesthetic is required. It is recommended that you wear comfortable clothing.

Before undergoing the SPECT brain scan, tell the doctor or technician about all medical conditions you may have. These professionals will especially need to know if you have suffered head trauma, or have a history of seizures or strokes. Also, disclose all medications you may take.

You will then be asked to lie on an examination table. The doctor will insert a needle into a vein in your arm. Through this needle, he can then inject a substance called a radiopharmaceutical, or a radioactive tracer. This is not a dye, however it works like one to highlight certain areas of the brain. It typically takes about 20 minutes to take effect, before you can begin the second phase of the test.


The doctor will then move the SPECT gamma camera close to your head. You will need to lie as still as possible while the SPECT brain scan is being processed. If you move too much, the doctor will need to start the scan over.

This special camera will take images of your brain. These images show how the blood flows through parts of the brain, as well as which areas are more active. The camera will rotate around your head to provide complete pictures.

After the SPECT brain scan is complete, you will be able to leave the clinic right away. There is no recovery period needed. Your results will not be available immediately, and your referring doctor will usually notify you when the results are in.

There are very few risks associated with a SPECT brain scan. Some patients may be concerned about radiation. While they should discuss these concerns with the doctor, it is important to note that this scan uses less radiation than regular x-rays. This imaging test should never be performed on women who are pregnant or nursing.



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