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HIDA Scan: About This Test

Gallbladder and the common bile duct

What is it?

A HIDA scan is an imaging test that checks how your gallbladder is working. The gallbladder is a small sac under your liver. It stores bile, a fluid that helps your body digest fats. If there are problems with the gallbladder, such as gallstones, the gallbladder may not store or empty bile properly.

During a HIDA scan, a camera takes pictures of your gallbladder after a radioactive tracer is injected into a vein in your arm. The tracer travels through your liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, and small intestine. The camera takes a series of pictures of the tracer as it moves along. Your doctor can use these pictures to look for leaks, blockages, or any other problems.

Why is this test done?

The HIDA scan may be done to:

  • Help find the cause of pain in the upper belly, especially if the pain is on the right side.
  • Find out if bile is leaking.
  • Find anything that may be blocking the bile ducts.

A HIDA scan is sometimes done if an earlier ultrasound test did not give enough information.

How can you prepare for the test?

  • Before the HIDA scan, tell your doctor if:
    • You are or might be pregnant.
    • You are breastfeeding. Do not breastfeed your baby for 2 days after this test. During this time, you can give your baby breast milk you stored before the test, or you can give formula. Discard the breast milk you pump for 2 days after the test.
    • You're taking certain medicines like morphine for pain.
    • Within the past 4 days, you've had an X-ray test that used barium.
  • The doctor may tell you not to eat or drink anything but water for 4 to 6 hours before the test. Follow all instructions carefully. If you haven't eaten for more than 24 hours before the test, tell your doctor.

What happens during the test?

  • You will remove any clothing around your belly. You will be given a gown or paper covering to use during the test.
  • You will lie on your back on a table.
  • A thin tube, call an IV, will be put into a vein in your arm.
  • A radioactive tracer chemical will be injected into the IV. A medicine that stimulates your gallbladder may also be injected.
  • The scanning camera will be placed close over your belly.
  • A picture will be taken right away. The whole scan may last up to 60 minutes as the tracer passes through your liver and into your gallbladder and small intestine. Several more pictures, each lasting a few minutes, may be taken over the next 2 to 4 hours. Each picture will take only a few minutes, but you will have to lie still for the whole test.

What else should you know about the test?

  • The HIDA scan itself is painless, but you may feel a brief sting or pinch as the IV is placed in your arm.
  • You may feel a brief pain in your belly as the medicine that stimulates your gallbladder starts to work.
  • The amount of radiation in the tracer chemical is very small. It is generally not harmful to health, and it's not a risk to people who touch you after the test. But there is a slight risk of damage to cells or tissue from being exposed to any radiation. The camera itself does not produce any radiation.

What happens after the test?

  • You will probably be able to go home right away.
  • Most of the tracer will leave your body within 24 hours through your urine and stool. When you go to the washroom during that time, be sure to flush the toilet and wash your hands well with soap and water.
  • Your doctor will discuss the results of the test with you.
  • You can go back to your usual activities right away.
  • If you are breastfeeding, you will need to use saved breast milk or formula for 2 days after the test. This is so you won't pass the tracer to your baby.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to keep a list of the medicines you take. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your test results.

Where can you learn more?

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