What is cardiac nuclear imaging?

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Nuclear imaging tests measure the pattern of blood flow to the heart muscle. These tests begin with an injection of radioactive chemicals (radionuclides) into your bloodstream through an intravenous (IV). The resulting picture, called a nuclear scan, helps healthcare providers detect heart damage and assess heart function. The radionuclides injected into your bloodstream act as tracers. They give off gamma rays, which are detected with imaging equipment called a gamma camera.
Richard Scherczinger, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Cardiac nuclear imaging is a way of checking blood flow through the muscle or walls of your heart. A tracer (small amount of radioactive matter) is given to you through a vein in your arm. A camera scans the tracer in your blood as it flows through your heart muscle. It is also called a perfusion scan.
Linda Martinez
Cardiac Rehabilitation

Cardiac nuclear imaging is most often used as a "stress test" to get a better view of areas in the heart that might not being getting an effective blood supply. It is considered a non-invasive test, although the patient must have an intravenous line placed for the test. The test involves having a radionuclide injected (there a several on the market), into the vein. The patient then ideally walks on a treadmill to get their heart rate up. Then they are scanned with a machine much like a CAT scan. Then they are allowed to rest and rescanned. The nuclear substance "lights" up areas of the heart with good blood supply and allows the cardiologist to look at the heart in multiple views. The cardiologist looks for any area of the heart that might have a defect. The test can also be done using medicines that simulate exercise if the patient can't walk on a treadmill for some reason. It may take about 3 hours.

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