The health care provider will inject a radioactive material called a radioisotope into one of your veins. After the liver has soaked up the material, you will be asked to lie on a table under the scanner.
The scanner can tell where the radioactive material has gathered in the body. Images are displayed on a computer. You may be asked to remain still, or to change positions during the scan.
How to Prepare for the Test
You must sign a consent form. You will be asked to remove jewelry, dentures, and other metals that can affect the scanner's functions.
You may need to wear a hospital gown.
How the Test will Feel
You will feel a sharp prick when the needle is inserted into your vein. You should not feel anything during the actual scan. If you have problems lying still or are very anxious, you may be given a mild medicine (sedative) to help you relax.
Why the Test is Performed
The test can provide information about liver and spleen function. It is also used to help confirm other test results.
The most common use for a liver scan is to diagnose a condition called benign focal nodular hyperplasia, or FNH.
The liver and spleen should look normal in size, shape, and location. The radioisotope is absorbed evenly.
Radiation from any scan is always a slight concern. The level of radiation in this procedure is less than that of most x-rays. It is not considered to be enough to cause harm to the average person.
Pregnant or nursing women should consult their health care provider before any exposure to radiation.
Other tests may be needed to confirm the findings of this test. These may include:
Abdominal CT scan
Liver flow study
Instead of a liver scan, CT or MRI scans are more often used to evaluate the liver and spleen.
Lidofsky S. Jaundice. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 20.
Lomas DJ. The liver. In: Adam A, Dixon A, eds. Grainger and Allison's Diagnostic Radiology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 35.
Jason Levy, MD, Northside Radiology Associates, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.