Lung Perfusion Scan

Lung Perfusion Scan

Synonym/acronym: Lung perfusion scintigraphy, lung scintiscan, pulmonary scan, radioactive perfusion scan, radionuclide lung scan, ventilation-perfusion scan, V/Q scan.

Common use

To assess pulmonary blood flow to assist in diagnosis of pulmonary embolism.

Area of application



IV radioactive material, usually macroaggregated albumin (MAA).


The lung perfusion scan is a nuclear medicine study performed to evaluate a patient for pulmonary embolus (PE) or other pulmonary disorders. Technetium (Tc-99m) is injected IV and distributed throughout the pulmonary vasculature because of the gravitational effect on perfusion. The scan, which produces a visual image of pulmonary blood flow, is useful in diagnosing or confirming pulmonary vascular obstruction. The diameter of the IV-injected macroaggregated albumin (MAA) is larger than that of the pulmonary capillaries; therefore, the MAA temporarily becomes lodged in the pulmonary vasculature. A gamma camera detects the radiation emitted from the injected radioactive material, and a representative image of the lung is obtained. This procedure is often done in conjunction with the lung ventilation scan to obtain clinical information that assists in differentiating among the many possible pathological conditions revealed by the procedure. The results are correlated with other diagnostic studies, such as pulmonary function, chest x-ray, pulmonary angiography, and arterial blood gases. A recent chest x-ray is essential for accurate interpretation of the lung perfusion scan. An area of nonperfusion seen in the same area as a pulmonary parenchymal abnormality on the chest x-ray indicates that a PE is not present; the defect may represent some other pathological condition, such as pneumonia.

This procedure is contraindicated for

  • high alert Patients who are pregnant or suspected of being pregnant, unless the potential benefits of a procedure using radiation far outweigh the risk of radiation exposure to the fetus and mother.
  • high alert Patients with atrial and ventricular septal defects because the MAA particles will not reach the lungs.
  • high alert Patients with pulmonary hypertension.


  • Aid in the diagnosis of PE in a patient with a normal chest x-ray
  • Detect malignant tumor
  • Differentiate between PE and other pulmonary diseases, such as pneumonia, pulmonary effusion, atelectasis, asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and tumors
  • Evaluate perfusion changes associated with congestive heart failure and pulmonary hypertension
  • Evaluate pulmonary function preoperatively in a patient with pulmonary disease

Potential diagnosis

Normal findings

  • Diffuse and homogeneous uptake of the radioactive material by the lungs

Abnormal findings related to

  • Asthma
  • Atelectasis
  • Bronchitis
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Emphysema
  • Left atrial or pulmonary hypertension
  • Lung displacement by fluid or chest masses
  • Pneumonia
  • Pneumonitis
  • PE
  • Tuberculosis

Critical findings

  • PE
  • It is essential that a critical finding be communicated immediately to the requesting health-care provider (HCP). A listing of these findings varies among facilities.

  • Timely notification of a critical finding for lab or diagnostic studies is a role expectation of the professional nurse. Notification processes will vary among facilities. Upon receipt of the critical value the information should be read back to the caller to verify accuracy. Most policies require immediate notification of the primary HCP, Hospitalist, or on-call HCP. Reported information includes the patient’s name, unique identifiers, critical value, name of the person giving the report, and name of the person receiving the report. Documentation of notification should be made in the medical record with the name of the HCP notified, time and date of notification, and any orders received. Any delay in a timely report of a critical finding may require completion of a notification form with review by Risk Management.

Interfering factors

  • Factors that may impair clear imaging

    • Inability of the patient to cooperate or remain still during the procedure because of age, significant pain, or mental status.
    • Metallic objects (e.g., jewelry, body rings) within the examination field, which may inhibit organ visualization and cause unclear images.
    • Other nuclear scans done on the same day.
  • Other considerations

    • Improper injection of the radionuclide may allow the tracer to seep deep into the muscle tissue, producing erroneous hot spots.
    • Consultation with an HCP should occur before the procedure for radiation safety concerns regarding younger patients or patients who are lactating. Pediatric & Geriatric Imaging Children and geriatric patients are at risk for receiving a higher radiation dose than necessary if settings are not adjusted for their small size. Pediatric Imaging Information on the Image Gently Campaign can be found at the Alliance for Radiation Safety in Pediatric Imaging (
    • Risks associated with radiation overexposure can result from frequent x-ray or radionuclide procedures. Personnel working in the examination area should wear badges to record their level of radiation.

Nursing Implications and Procedure


  • Positively identify the patient using at least two unique identifiers before providing care, treatment, or services.
  • Patient Teaching: Inform the patient this procedure can assist in assessing blood flow to the lungs.
  • Obtain a history of the patient’s complaints or clinical symptoms, including a list of known allergens, especially allergies or sensitivities to latex, anesthetics, sedatives, or radionuclides.
  • Obtain a history of the patient’s respiratory system, symptoms, and results of previously performed laboratory tests and diagnostic and surgical procedures.
  • Note any recent procedures that can interfere with test results, including examinations using iodine-based contrast medium.
  • Record the date of the last menstrual period and determine the possibility of pregnancy in perimenopausal women.
  • Obtain a list of the patient’s current medications, including herbs, nutritional supplements, and nutraceuticals (see Effects of Natural Products on Laboratory Values online at DavisPlus).
  • Review the procedure with the patient. Address concerns about pain related to the procedure and explain that some pain may be experienced during the test, or there may be moments of discomfort. Reassure the patient that the radionuclide poses no radioactive hazard and rarely produces side effects. Inform the patient that the procedure is performed in a nuclear medicine department, by an HCP specializing in this procedure, with support staff, and takes approximately 60 min.
  • Sensitivity to social and cultural issues, as well as concern for modesty, is important in providing psychological support before, during, and after the procedure.
  • Explain that an IV line may be inserted to allow infusion of IV fluids such as normal saline, anesthetics, sedatives, radionuclides, medications used in the procedure, or emergency medications.
  • Instruct the patient to remove jewelry and other metallic objects from the area to be examined prior to the procedure.
  • Note that there are no food, fluid, or medication restrictions unless by medical direction.
  • Make sure a written and informed consent has been signed prior to the procedure and before administering any medications.


  • Potential complications:
  • Although it is rare, there is the possibility of allergic reaction to the radionuclide. Have emergency equipment and medications readily available. If the patient has a history of allergic reactions to any substance or drug, administer ordered prophylactic steroids or antihistamines before the procedure.

  • Establishing an IV site and injection of radionuclides is an invasive procedure. Complications are rare but do include bleeding from the puncture site related to a bleeding disorder, or the effects of natural products and medications known to act as blood thinners, hematoma related to blood leakage into the tissue following needle insertion, infection that might occur if bacteria from the skin surface is introduced at the puncture site, or nerve injury that might occur if the needle strikes a nerve.

  • Observe standard precautions, and follow the general guidelines in Patient Preparation and Specimen Collection. Positively identify the patient.
  • Ensure that the patient has removed all external metallic objects from the area to be examined prior to the procedure.
  • Administer ordered prophylactic steroids or antihistamines before the procedure if the patient has a history of allergic reactions to any substance or drug.
  • Avoid the use of equipment containing latex if the patient has a history of allergic reaction to latex.
  • Have emergency equipment readily available.
  • Instruct the patient to void prior to the procedure and to change into the gown, robe, and foot coverings provided.
  • Record baseline vital signs and assess neurological status. Protocols may vary among facilities.
  • Establish an IV fluid line for the injection of saline, anesthetics, sedatives, radionuclides, or emergency medications.
  • Instruct the patient to cooperate fully and to follow directions. Instruct the patient to remain still throughout the procedure because movement produces unreliable results.
  • Administer a sedative to a child or to an uncooperative adult, as ordered.
  • Place the patient in a supine position on a flat table with foam wedges, which help maintain position and immobilization.
  • IV radionuclide is administered, and the abdomen is scanned immediately to screen for vascular lesions with images taken in various positions.
  • Monitor the patient for complications related to the procedure (e.g., allergic reaction, anaphylaxis, bronchospasm).
  • Remove the needle or catheter and apply a pressure dressing over the puncture site.
  • Observe/assess the needle/catheter insertion site for bleeding, inflammation, or hematoma formation.


  • Inform the patient that a report of the results will be made available to the requesting HCP, who will discuss the results with the patient.
  • Unless contraindicated, advise patient to drink increased amounts of fluids for 24 to 48 hr to eliminate the radionuclide from the body. Inform the patient that radionuclide is eliminated from the body within 6 to 24 hr.
  • No other radionuclide tests should be scheduled for 24 to 48 hr after this procedure.
  • Monitor vital signs and neurological status every 15 min for 1 hr, then every 2 hr for 4 hr, and then as ordered by the HCP. Compare with baseline values. Protocols may vary among facilities.
  • Instruct the patient to resume usual medication and activity, as directed by the HCP.
  • Observe for delayed allergic reactions, such as rash, urticaria, tachycardia, hyperpnea, hypertension, palpitations, nausea, or vomiting.
  • Instruct the patient to immediately report symptoms such as fast heart rate, difficulty breathing, skin rash, itching, chest pain, persistent right shoulder pain, or abdominal pain. Immediately report symptoms to the appropriate HCP.
  • Observe/assess the needle/catheter insertion site for bleeding, inflammation, or hematoma formation.
  • Instruct the patient in the care and assessment of the injection site.
  • If a woman who is breastfeeding must have a nuclear scan, she should not breastfeed the infant until the radionuclide has been eliminated. This could take as long as 3 days. She should be instructed to express the milk and discard it during the 3-day period to prevent cessation of milk production.
  • Instruct the patient to immediately flush the toilet and to meticulously wash hands with soap and water after each voiding for 24 hr after the procedure.
  • Instruct all caregivers to wear gloves when discarding urine for 24 hr after the procedure. Wash gloved hands with soap and water before removing gloves. Then wash hands after the gloves are removed.
  • Recognize anxiety related to test results, and be supportive of perceived loss of independent function. Discuss the implications of abnormal test results on the patient’s lifestyle. Provide teaching and information regarding the clinical implications of the test results, as appropriate.
  • Reinforce information given by the patient’s HCP regarding further testing, treatment, or referral to another HCP. Answer any questions or address any concerns voiced by the patient or family.
  • Depending on the results of this procedure, additional testing may be needed to evaluate or monitor progression of the disease process and determine the need for a change in therapy. Evaluate test results in relation to the patient’s symptoms and other tests performed.

Related Monographs

  • Related tests include α-1 AT, eosinophil count, ACE, alveolar/arterial gradient, angiography pulmonary, biopsy lung, blood gases, blood pool imaging, bronchoscopy, carbon dioxide, chest x-ray, CBC, CBC WCB count and differential, CT thoracic, culture and smear mycobacteria, culture blood, culture throat, culture sputum, culture viral, cytology sputum, ESR, IgE, gallium scan, lung ventilation scan, MRI chest, MRI veno-graphy, mediastinoscopy, plethysmo-graphy, pleural fluid analysis, PET heart, PFT, pulse oximetry, and TB skin tests.
  • Refer to the Respiratory System table at the end of the book for related tests by body system.
Handbook of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, © 2013 Farlex and Partners
References in periodicals archive ?
In Abrams et al.'s comparison of the diagnostic utility of contrast echocardiography and lung perfusion scan in patients with HPS, they found a similar prevalence of positive contrast echocardiograms (i.e., with intrapulmonaryvascular dilatations present) across a range of aetiologies and severities [10].
Fallon, "Diagnostic utility of contrast echocardiography and lung perfusion scan in patients with hepatopulmonary syndrome," Gastroenterology, vol.
Caption: Figure 4: (a) Microbubble transthoracic echocardiography showing a right to left shunt with a delayed opacification (>3 cardiac cycles) of the left atrium and ventricle; (b) macroaggregated albumin lung perfusion scan (MAA scan) showing radioactivity in the lungs (panel 2) as well as in the cerebrum (panel 1) and in the kidneys (panel 3), suggesting right to left shunt.
Lung perfusion scan with Tc-99m MAA was performed and showed focal tracer uptake at the region of the brain, stomach, and both kidneys indicating right-to-left shunt (Figure 2).
Secondly, multiple findings are illustrated in several imaging modalities including enhanced CT scan, lung perfusion scan, and cardiac MRI.
Objective: To validate single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) lung perfusion scan (LPS) matched with a recent chest radiograph against computed tomographic pulmonary angiography (CTPA) used as gold standard, for diagnosis of acute pulmonary embolism (PE).
Table: Comparison of outcomes of single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) lung perfusion scan (LPS) against computed tomographic pulmonary angiography (CTPA).
The attending physician ordered an ultrasound of both legs along with a chest radiograph, lung perfusion scan, and D-dimer.
A lung perfusion scan demonstrated poor perfusion to the left lobe (25.3% uptake of technetium-99) and increased perfusion of the right lung (74.7% uptake).
A lung perfusion scan revealed significantly decreased left upper lung perfusion (Figure 2) with the left lung contributing approximately 18% of the lung function and the right lung contributing 82% of the total lung function.
Although it is hard to demonstrate PV stenosis and its hemodynamic adaptation by imaging, the absence of perfusion on a lung perfusion scan can be suggestive of pulmonary artery to systemic collaterals (Figure 2) [4, 5].
Lung perfusion scans are included to illustrate pulmonary embolism.