DMSA Renal Scans

Fast Facts about DMSA Renal Scans

  • The DMSA renal scan is a nuclear medicine test that gives detailed pictures of the kidneys and how they are working.
  • Nuclear medicine tests work through the use of a small amount of radioactive material called a radioisotope.
  • The DMSA scan itself does not hurt, but an intravenous (IV) line is needed to give a tiny amount of the radioisotope before the test.
  • When sedation medication is prescribed, there are important rules for eating and drinking that must be followed in the hours before the test. Ask your doctor to explain the rules.
  • A supervising radiology doctor is always nearby when sedation medication is given.

What is a DMSA renal (kidney) scan?

The DMSA renal scan is a nuclear medicine test that gives doctors detailed pictures not only of how the kidneys look, but how they are working. DMSA (dimercaptosuccinic acid) is a short-lived radioisotope that goes directly to the kidneys once inside the body and only stays radioactive for a few hours up to a day.

Using DMSA and a special camera, nuclear medicine doctors can see the kidneys and diagnose problems at their earliest stages. Although a bit different from traditional X-Rays and CT or MRI scans, nuclear medicine tests using radioisotopes like DMSA have about the same amount of radiation as other radiology tests.

Before the test begins, a radiology nurse will place an intravenous (IV) line in your arm, hand or foot. A tiny amount of the DMSA will be given through the IV, based on your weight.

You may be a bit uncomfortable for a moment when the IV is first placed.

  • The DMSA injection is given through the IV. It takes at least 2 hours for the DMSA to be absorbed by the kidneys.
  • If you are not having sedation, the IV will be removed after the DMSA injection is given.
  • If you are having sedation, the IV may stay in place until it is time for the DMSA scan and may be used to give you the sedation medication.
  • If sedation medication has been prescribed, you must not eat or drink anything until after the scan has been done.
  • After about 2 hours, when the DMSA has been absorbed, detailed pictures will be taken of the size, shape and position of the kidneys. These pictures will give your doctor an idea of how well the kidneys are working and can show areas of the kidneys that may be infected or scarred from a previous infection.

Home Preparation

  • No special preparation is needed, and you may eat and drink as usual unless sedation medication has been prescribed.
  • Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes on the day of the test.

The Test

A radiology nurse will put in the IV and give the DMSA injection. You will stay in the radiology waiting area for the next 2 hours.

You will be given a specific time to return to the Radiology department. When you return, you will be taken to a nuclear medicine room. Inside the room will be a nuclear medicine technologist who will do the DMSA scan, a table and a nuclear medicine camera. The lights will be dim inside the room.

  • You will lie down on the table.
  • During the scan, the camera will either move over your body or stay in one position, but will not touch you at any point. The scan itself does not hurt.
  • The technologist will remain in the room for most of the test.
  • Each picture of the kidney takes about 8 minutes; all of the pictures will be done in about 60 minutes.
  • If you received sedation medication for relaxation or sleep, you will be taken to the recovery area until the medication wears off and you are awake again.

After the test

Once a nuclear medicine doctor approves the quality of the pictures, the test will be over. A report of your scan will be sent to the doctor who ordered it, usually within 48 hours. If there are any urgent results to report, your doctor will be contacted immediately.

Source: Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh /radiology/patient-procedures/dmsa-renal-scan