Liver scans help diagnose disorders such as cirrhosis, hepatitis, tumors and other problems in the digestive tract. Gallbladder scans are used to evaluate upper abdominal pain, determine causes of jaundice and identify obstruction in the gallbladder.

Test Preparation

For the liver scan, no special preparation is required. If you are having a liver/spleen test, however, you should not have any gastrointestinal tests with barium at least 24 hours before the liver test.

For the gallbladder scan, you may be asked to:

Not eat or drink for at least four hours before the test because contents in the stomach will alter the test results.

Stop taking current medications because certain drugs affect how the tracer flows through the biliary tract.

Exam Procedure

Liver Scan:  After an injection of tracer into your arm, you will wait 10 to 15 minutes for the tracer to be absorbed by the liver. You will then lie on your back on the table, and pictures will be taken of your abdomen from several positions.

Liver/Spleen Scan:  Tracer is injected into your arm. Ten to 15 minutes after the injection, you will lie on your back and images from different positions will be taken of your liver and spleen.

Gallbladder Scan (HIDA scan with ejection fraction):  The first thing that is done for a gallbladder scan is to place an IV in the arm. This is so that the tracer can be given, as well as the drug that is used to empty the gallbladder without multiple needle sticks to the patient. The patient will lie on their back on the imaging table and, after the tracer is injected, multiple images of the abdominal area will be taken. For this test, the images are started immediately after the tracer injection. Imaging takes one and a half hours, starting from the time of the first image. After one hour of imaging, the gallbladder is usually full enough to proceed with the second part of the study. For the ejection fraction part of the scan, a second injection is given through the IV. This injection is a drug called cholecystokinin. It is a chemical that is naturally produced by the small bowel and, when secreted into the bloodstream, it causes the gallbladder to contract and empty. This part of the test usually takes about half an hour. By using the computer, it is possible to determine what percentage of the content of the gallbladder the patient is able to empty. The injection of the tracer will not cause any side effects and the patient should not experience any symptoms from the tracer. The injection of cholecystokinin may cause some minor nausea or discomfort in the abdomen.  Any side effects that are experienced usually only last a few minutes.