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What is nuclear imaging for the heart?

Nuclear imaging is a general term for imaging tests that use special cameras and small amounts of radioactive materials (radionuclides) injected into the body. The radionuclides are used to create pictures that help in diagnosing heart problems.
Nuclear imaging evaluates how organs function, unlike other imaging methods that assess how organs appear. Small amounts of a radioactive solution that is safe and has no side effects are introduced into the body. A special camera detects the solution in different parts of the body and a computer generates a series of images of the areas of interest.

Some types are:

Cardiac SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) scans also called myocardial perfusion imaging are non-invasive tests that are used to assess the heart's structure and function. SPECT scans use small amounts of radioactive substances that are injected into a vein and special cameras to produce images of the heart. These pictures are used to assess blood flow to the heart muscle and to detect areas of decreased flow due to blockages in the heart's arteries.

A MUGA (Multiple Gated Acquisition) Scan – also called radionuclide angiography (RNA) – is a test that is used to evaluate heart function by measuring how much blood is pumped out of the ventricles of the heart with each heartbeat (ejection fraction). A small amount of a safe radioactive tracer solution is introduced into a vein. This substance attaches to red blood cells, which are visualized by a special camera and computer as they travel through the heart, and the ejection fraction is calculated based on the computer-generated images.

PET (Positron Emission Tomography) is a type of nuclear imaging that can evaluate heart function. PET scans can be used to look for coronary artery disease by examining how blood flows through the heart; it can evaluate damage to heart tissue after a heart attack. Your physician can use this information to determine the best course of treatment for you.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.