Skip to Content
Home > Wellness > Health Library > Gallbladder Scan
A gallbladder scan is a
nuclear scanning test that checks to see how your
gallbladder is working. The scan can find blockage in the
tubes (bile ducts) that lead from the liver to the gallbladder and small
During a gallbladder scan, a
radioactive tracer substance is put into a vein
in the arm. The liver removes the tracer from the blood and adds it to
the bile that normally flows through the bile ducts to the gallbladder. The
gallbladder then releases the tracer into the first part of the small intestine.
A special camera takes pictures of the tracer as it moves through the
liver, bile ducts, gallbladder, and small intestine.
A gallbladder scan is done to:
Before your gallbladder scan, tell your
Do not eat or drink for 4 to 12 hours before a gallbladder
scan. Your doctor will tell you how long you should not eat or drink. This depends on what the test is being
You may be asked to sign a consent form before the test.
Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about the need for the
test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will mean. To help
you understand the importance of this test, fill out the
medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).
A gallbladder scan is usually done by a
nuclear medicine technologist. The scan pictures are usually read by a
nuclear medicine specialist.
You will need
to take off any jewelry that might affect the scan. You may need to take
off all or most of your clothes. This depends on which part of your body is being examined. You
may be allowed to keep on your underwear if it does not affect the
test. You will be given a cloth or paper covering to use during the
The site on your arm where the
radioactive tracer goes in will be cleaned. A small amount of the tracer
is then injected.
You will lie on your back on a table. A large
scanning camera will be placed just above your belly. After the
radioactive tracer is injected, the camera will scan for radiation released by
the tracer. The camera makes pictures as the tracer passes through your liver and
into your gallbladder and small intestine. The first pictures will be taken
right after the tracer starts to go in. The pictures may be continuous, like a video. Or they may
be taken once in a while for up to 1½ hours after the test starts.
Each scan takes only a
few minutes. You need to lie very still during each scan so the
pictures won't be blurred. The camera does not produce any radiation. So you are not exposed to
any more radiation while the scan is being done.
that stimulates the gallbladder may also be put into
your vein during the scans. The pictures taken after this injection can help
see if the gallbladder is working normally. A computer may look at the data to check how well the gallbladder is working. You may be asked about your reaction to the substance used to stimulate the gallbladder. Sometimes
medicine (morphine sulfate) is given to help find out if the
gallbladder is inflamed.
gallbladder scan takes about 1 to 2 hours.
Depending on your results, more scans may be
taken up to a day later. If you need to go back for another gallbladder scan,
do not eat any fatty foods before the test.
You may feel nothing at all from the
needle, or you may feel a brief sting or
pinch. Otherwise, a gallbladder scan
usually doesn't hurt.
You may find it hard to stay still during the scan.
Ask for a pillow or a blanket to get as comfortable as you can before
the scan starts.
The test may be uncomfortable if you are having pain in your belly. Try to relax by breathing slowly and deeply.
You may have nausea or belly pain if
that stimulates the gallbladder is used during the test.
You may be asked about changes in your pain during the test.
Allergic reactions to the radioactive
tracer are rare. Most of the tracer will leave your body through
your urine or stool within a day. So be sure to flush the toilet right away after each use. And wash your hands well with soap and water. The amount of radiation is so
small that it is not a risk for people to come in contact with you after
Some people may have soreness or swelling where the needle went in. These symptoms can usually be relieved by putting moist,
warm compresses on your arm.
There is always a slight chance of
damage to cells or tissue from radiation, including the
low level of radiation used for this
test. But the chance of damage is usually very low compared with the benefits of the test.
A gallbladder scan is a special
nuclear scanning test that is done to check how the
gallbladder is working. The results of a gallbladder
scan are ready in 2 days.
The radioactive tracer flows evenly through
the liver and then into the gallbladder and the first part of the small
The gallbladder is normal in size, shape,
The tracer may not be removed normally from
the blood by the liver. This may be a sign of liver disease.
The gallbladder does not contract or empty normally.
The tracer may not reach the gallbladder. This means there is swelling or that the duct is blocked by a
The tracer may not reach the first part of
the small intestine (duodenum). This may mean a bile duct is blocked by a stone. Or there may be
a tumor, infection, or swelling of the
Pain occurs when the gallbladder empties
You may not be able to have the test, or the results may not be helpful, if:
Other Works Consulted
Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2008). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 5th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.
Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Pagana KD, Pagana TJ (2010). Mosby’s Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests, 4th ed. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerHoward Schaff, MD - Diagnostic Radiology
Current as ofNovember 20, 2015
Current as of:
November 20, 2015
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Howard Schaff, MD - Diagnostic Radiology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2016 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
I Want To...
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.