The Science

What is Brain SPECT Imaging?
SPECT stands for “Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography.” It is a sophisticated nuclear medicine study that measures the cerebral blood flow and activity patterns of your brain. It utilizes a radiopharmaceutical to create images of actual brain function by identifying blood flow patterns throughout the brain. Most people find that being able to “see” the areas of their brain that are contributing to their symptoms gives them a much better understanding of their condition and increases motivation to comply with their treatment recommendations.

The study is performed by injecting a very small dose of a radioactively tagged compound (Ceretec) that is taken up by the brain. Once in the brain the Ceretec emits energy for the next few hours. The cameras in the SPECT scanner slowly rotate around your head and detect this energy in the form of light. The most active brain cells will emit the most energy and the least active cells will emit the least energy.

What is the purpose of the Brain SPECT Imaging Study?
SPECT imaging is a clinically useful way to look at brain functioning. Certain mental and behavioral states can be correlated with certain SPECT patterns. Gathering this information from the SPECT studies will help you understand your specific brain functioning, which may help further in your evaluation and treatment. Thomas Insel M.D., Phd, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, and recognized as the top psychiatrist in the nation, said in 2005 “Brain imaging in clinical practice is the next major advance in psychiatry.” He believed that brain imaging in clinical practice would be a reality within 5 years. Indeed, today we are beginning to see his predictions come to pass.

Will the SPECT study give me an accurate diagnosis?
No. A SPECT study by itself will not give a diagnosis. SPECT studies help the doctor and/or clinician understand more about the specific function of your brain. Your brain is unique and this may lead to unique responses to your treatment plan. This helps explain why two people that have depression can both get the same treatment and one get better while the other gets worse. Diagnoses about specific conditions are made through a combination of clinical history, personal interview, information from families, checklists, SPECT studies and other neuropsychological tests. No study is a “doctor in a box” that can give accurate diagnoses on individual clients.

Why are SPECT studies done?
Some of the common reasons include:

  1. Evaluating suspected seizure activity
  2. Evaluating suspected cerebral vascular disease
  3. Evaluating cognitive decline and suspected dementia or other memory problems
  4. Evaluating the effects of mild, moderate and severe head trauma
  5. Evaluating the presence of a suspected underlying organic brain condition, such as seizure activity, that contributes to behavioural or emotional disturbance
  6. Evaluating aggressive behavior
  7. Evaluating the extent of brain impairment caused by drug or alcohol abuse or other toxic exposure
  8. Subtyping the physiology underlying mood disorders, anxiety disorders, or attention deficit disorders
  9. Evaluating atypical, unresponsive or mixed psychiatric conditions
  10. Following up to evaluate the physiological effects of treatment