What is a HIDA Scan?

Updated: Feb 18

A HIDA scan is a nuclear medicine scan that is used to assess gallbladder function. It is also referred to as a hepatobiliary scan. Other diagnostic imaging modalities (Ultrasound, X-ray, Computed Tomography - CT, Magnetic Resonance Imaging - MRI) show what organs of the body look like and hence they are referred to as structural modalities. Nuclear Medicine is referred to as the functional imaging modality because it focuses on assessing function of organs of the body.

The gallbladder is part of the gastrointestinal system and is attached to the liver on the right upper quadrant of the abdomen. It's primary function is to store and release bile to digest food, especially fatty meals. HIDA scans are ordered as a follow-up procedure to findings of cholelithiasis (gallbladder stones), cholecystitis (gallbladder inflammation) sometimes accompanied by gallbladder sludge or gallbladder wall thickening. Initial diagnostic testing is very commonly done with Sonography. Sometimes initial diagnosis is incidental via CT or MRI of the abdomen.

Symptoms of Gallbladder Disease

The most common symptom of gallbladder disease is abdominal pain - right upper quadrant sometimes radiating to the back or sometimes epigastric (abdominal area just under the middle of the chest). For some patients, abdominal pain typically occurs after a fatty meal while for others, it doesn't matter if they ate a fatty meal or not. Some patients may experience nausea, vomiting and bloating. These symptoms could point to other gastro intestinal diseases or ailments such as gastroparesis - weak stomach muscles. It is therefore very important that you consult with a gastrointestinal specialist who will review your family medical history as well as your past medical history and then recommend what procedure will provide the most useful information to help diagnose and resolve or manage your condition.

Now that you know.........

Unfortunately, Nuclear Medicine is not used as much as it should due to limited knowledge of the benefits, as well as misleading information about radiation. If you or someone you know has visited the ER multiple times for abdominal pain, been through multiple testing (CT, MRI, Ultrasound) that turned out normal and yet the symptoms persist, it's time to get a second or third opinion. Gather those imaging reports - hopefully you have copies, and schedule an appointment with a gastrointestinal specialist if your insurance allows you to see one directly. Otherwise, find a different primary physician that is willing to work with you to find the source of your abdominal pain.

You are your best advocate and you know when something just doesn't feel right.

Don't stop asking questions until you find answers!