Health Information

Liver scan

Liver scan


Technetium scan; Liver technetium sulfur colloid scan; Liver-spleen radionuclide scan; Nuclear scan - technetium; Nuclear scan - liver or spleen

A liver scan uses a radioactive material to check how well the liver or spleen is working.

I Would Like to Learn About:

  • How the Test is Performed

    The health care provider will inject a radioactive material called a radioisotope into one of your veins. After the liver has soaked up the material, you will be asked to lie on a table under the scanner.

    The scanner can tell where the radioactive material has gathered in the body. Images are displayed on a computer. You may be asked to remain still, or to change positions during the scan.

  • How to Prepare for the Test

    You must sign a consent form. You will be asked to remove jewelry, dentures, and other metals that can affect the scanner's functions.

    You may need to wear a hospital gown.

  • How the Test will Feel

    You will feel a sharp prick when the needle is inserted into your vein. You should not feel anything during the actual scan. If you have problems lying still or are very anxious, you may be given a mild medicine (sedative) to help you relax.

  • Why the Test is Performed

    The test can provide information about liver and spleen function. It is also used to help confirm other test results.

    The most common use for a liver scan is to diagnose a condition called benign focal nodular hyperplasia, or FNH.

  • Normal Results

    The liver and spleen should look normal in size, shape, and location. The radioisotope is absorbed evenly.

  • What Abnormal Results Mean

    • Abscess
    • Budd-Chiari syndrome
    • High pressure in the liver blood vessels (portal hypertension)
    • Infection
    • Injury
    • Liver disease (such as cirrhosis or hepatitis)
    • Superior vena cava obstruction
    • Splenic infarction (tissue death)
    • Tumors
  • Risks

    Radiation from any scan is always a slight concern. The level of radiation in this procedure is less than that of most x-rays. It is not considered to be enough to cause harm to the average person.

    Pregnant or nursing women should consult their health care provider before any exposure to radiation.

  • Considerations

    Other tests may be needed to confirm the findings of this test. These may include:

    • Abdominal ultrasound
    • Abdominal CT scan
    • Liver biopsy
    • Liver flow study

    Instead of a liver scan, CT or MRI scans are more often used to evaluate the liver and spleen.

Related Information

  Liver diseaseCirrhosisHepatitisAbscessSVC obstructionSplenic infarction...Hepatic vein obstr...Amebic liver absce...Liver cancer - Hep...     Cirrhosis


Lidofsky S. Jaundice. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 20.

Lomas DJ. The liver. In: Adam A, Dixon A, eds. Grainger and Allison's Diagnostic Radiology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 35.


Review Date: 1/13/2013  

Reviewed By: Jason Levy, MD, Northside Radiology Associates, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.


A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Fire Fox and Google Chrome browser.