Hepatobiliary (HIDA) Scan

General Information | Scheduling, Insurance and Preparation | What to Expect

General information General Information

About Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine exams image bodily function rather than anatomy. They can be useful in finding problems that are not obvious by looking at the structure of an organ or tissue. This is done with the use of small amounts of radioactive materials, also known as tracers. Each tracer is designed to be attracted to specific organs or types of body tissue. Special cameras that can map the distribution of the radioactive tracer create images which are studied by radiologists.

Nuclear medicine scans are very safe. Nuclear medicine has been used in newborns and children for more than four decades and even longer in adults. There are no known long-term adverse effects from such low-dose exams.

About Hepatobiliary (HIDA) Scans

The energy emitted from the injected radioactive material is captured in images.

A hepatobiliary (HIDA) scan is a nuclear medicine exam in which the patient receives an injection of a radioactive tracer that is taken up by bile-producing cells. The injection is followed by a scan of the gallbladder, liver, and bile ducts. Often a drug (Kinevac) will be given as part of the scan to see how strongly the gallbladder contracts. Alternatively if the gallbladder cannot be seen, then another drug (morphine) may be given to attempt to see the gallbladder.

HIDA scans are most commonly used to identify the following:

  • Closed bile ducts
  • Bile leak after surgery or trauma
  • Gallbladder inflammation (acute or chronic cholecystitis)
  • Other causes of abnormal liver function

It may also be performed on babies to determine the cause of jaundice.

Risks Involved in a Hepatobiliary Scan

The risks involved in a HIDA scan are minimal. They include the following:

  • Radiation exposure; however, a very small amount of radioactive material is used and the radiation exposure is well below the level that generally causes adverse affects.
  • Allergic reactions to the radioactive material; however, this is rare.
  • Allergic reaction to morphine (if needed).
  • Discomfort during the injection or while laying on the table for the required amount of time for the scan.
  • Discomfort during the infusion of Kinevac (if needed).

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Scheduling, Insurance and Preparation Scheduling, Insurance and Preparation

Exam Locations

The exam is performed at the following Radiology Imaging Associates partner hospitals in the Denver, Colorado area:

Call the hospital to schedule.


To schedule a hepatobiliary scan, please call the hospital where the exam will be performed.

  • Medical Center of Aurora
  • Littleton Adventist Hospital
  • Porter Adventist Hospital
  • Sky Ridge Medical Center
  • Swedish Medical Center

Insurance Coverage

HIDA scans are usually covered by insurance when ordered by a physician. Check with your insurance company to be sure. Please bring your insurance card with you to your exam.

Conditions to Let Us Know About

In advance of your exam, let your scheduler, technologist, or radiologist know if any of the following circumstances apply to you (or your child):

  • Pregnant or may be pregnant
  • Breastfeeding
  • Claustrophobic
  • Allergies to medications, contrast dyes, or latex

Preparation Guidelines

Following are the general preparation instructions for this exam. You may receive additional or differing guidelines based on your specific situation. Please contact the hospital at which you will have the exam if you have any questions.

  • Do not eat or drink anything for at least 4 hours prior to the exam (2 hours for infants). Small amounts of water may be taken as needed for medications.
  • Do not take prescription pain medicine 12 hours prior to the exam.
  • Eat a fatty meal (i.e. slice of cheese pizza or a burger) the night before the exam.
  • Inform the technologist if you have not been able to eat anything for more than 24 hours.
  • If the patient is your child, bring any of the following items to increase his or her comfort: CDs, movies, pacifiers, special blankets, and stuffed toys.

Support for Children

If your child is having the exam, it is important that you provide emotional support for him or her before and during the procedure. If your child is old enough to understand, explain the procedure to him or her. Let him or her know that the exam won’t hurt and that he or she will have to lie very still throughout the exam. Also reassure your child that you will be able to remain in the room during the exam.

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What to Expect What to Expect

During the Exam

A nuclear medicine hepatobiliary scan requires multiple scans. Here is generally what will happen:

  1. You will complete some paper work upon arrival.
  2. An intravenous line will be started.
  3. A technologist will position you on a table and you will be given an injection of the radioactive tracer.
  4. A gamma camera will move over your abdomen to record images of the radioactive material inside the liver and gallbladder. This scan will last between 30 and 60 minutes.
  5. The next part of the exam is based on whether or not your gallbladder is seen.
    • If your gallbladder is seen, then you may be given a slow infusion of a drug (Kinevac) over 30 minutes that shows how well your gallbladder contracts, and then a 1-minute image taken.
    • If your gallbladder is not seen, then you may be given a small amount of morphine and additional images taken over 30 minutes.

Additional Measures for Children

If the patient is a child, the following additional measures may be taken

  • Up to two adults may be in the nuclear medicine room with your child.
  • If the child requires sedation (usually for children under the age of 10), it will be given orally before the scan.
  • If the patient is a child and not sedated, a movie or CD may be set up before the scan.

After the Exam


You can return to your normal activities immediately after the exam. Drink plenty of fluids to help flush the radioactive material from your body.

Sedated Children
If the patient is a child and was sedated, he or she may be groggy after the exam. The sedation drug may stay in your child’s system throughout the day. Please anticipate a change in your child’s eating and sleeping habits for the remainder of the day. Although it isn’t essential that your child eat, it is important that your child drink fluids throughout the day. He or she should be back to normal the following day.

Exam Results

A board-certified radiologist experienced in the interpretation of HIDA scans will analyze the data and results from your exam. If the patient is a child, the exam data will be analyzed by a radiologist experienced in the interpretation of pediatric HIDA scans. The results will be reported to your physician. Your physician will pass the results onto you.

During the exam, our radiologists and technologists will be happy to answer questions about the exam itself; however, they will not immediately provide you with the results of your exam.

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