Adrenal gland scan


The adrenal gland scan is a nuclear medicine evaluation of the medulla (inner tissue) of the adrenal gland.


The adrenal glands are a pair of small organs located just above the kidney, which contain two types of tissue. The adrenal cortex produces hormones that affect water balance and metabolism in the body. The adrenal medulla produces adrenaline and noradrenaline (also called epinepherine and norepinepherine).

An adrenal gland scan is done when toomuch adrenaline and noradrenaline is produced in the body and a tumor in the adrenal gland is suspected.One such situation in which a tumor might be suspected is when high blood pressure (hypertension) does not respond to medication. Tumors that secrete adrenaline and noradrenaline can also be found outside the adrenal gland. An adrenal gland scan usually covers the abdomen, chest, and head.


Adrenal gland scans are not recommended for pregnant women because of the potential harm to the developing fetus. A pregnant woman should discuss with her doctor the risks of the procedure against the benefits of the information it can provide in evaluating her individual medical situation.

People who have recently undergone tests that use barium must wait until the barium has been eliminated from their system in order to obtain accurate results from the adrenal gland scan.


The adrenal gland scan takes several days. On the first day, a radiopharmaceutical is injected intravenously into the patient.On the second, third, and fourth day the patient is positioned under the camera for imaging. The scanning time each day takes approximately 30 minutes. It is essential that the patient remain still during imaging.

Occasionally, the scanning process may involve fewer than three days, or it may continue several days longer. The area scanned extends from the pelvis and lower abdomen to the lower chest. Sometimes the upper legs, thighs, and head are also included.


For two days before and ten days after the injection of the radiopharmaceutical, patients are given either Lugol's solution or potassium iodine. This prevents the thyroid from taking up radioactive iodine and interfering with the scan.


The patient should not feel any adverse effects of the test and can resume normal activity immediately. Follow-up tests that might be ordered include a nuclear scan of the bones or kidney, a computed tomography scan (CT) of the adrenals, or an ultrasound of the pelvic area.


The main risk associated with this test is to the fetus of a pregnant woman.

Normal results

Normal results will show no unusual areas of hormone secretion and no tumors.

Abnormal results

Abnormal results will show evidence of a tumor where there is excessive secretion of adrenaline or noradrenaline. More than 90% of these tumors are in the abdomen.