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Nuclear Heart Scan

A nuclear heart scan is a test that uses a special camera and a small amount of a harmless radioactive substance (tracer) to create two sets of images of the blood flow to your heart.  This test is done in conjunction with an exercise or pharmacologic (medication) stress test.  One set of images of the heart is taken before the stress test and the second set is taken afterwards.

Once the tracer is injected into your bloodstream, you will remain resting for 15-30 minutes before the nuclear heart scan begins. When you begin the test, you will lie under a special camera that is able to take a picture of the tracer that is in your heart in this resting , or normal, state.  Next, you will undergo either an exercise or medication stress test, during which you will be given a second small dose tracer to take additional pictures of your heart. A cardiologist will compare the two sets of images of your heart at rest and at stress, in conjunction with an electrocardiogram (EKG) that is also taken during your stress test.

Nuclear heart scans are used for three main purposes:

•  To provide information about the flow of blood throughout your heart. If the scan shows that one part of the heart muscle isn’t receiving blood, it’s a sign of a possible narrowing or blockage in the coronary arteries (the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to your heart). Decreased blood flow through the coronary arteries may mean you have coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD can lead to angina, heart attack, and other heart problems.
•  To look for damaged heart muscle. Damage may be due to a previous heart attack, injury, infection, or medicine.
•  To see how well your heart pumps blood out to your body.

A nuclear heart scan is a relatively non-invasive and very safe test.  The level of radiation you are exposed to is comparable to that of other diagnostic imaging procedures and is not harmful, however, women who are nursing or pregnant should speak to their doctor before scheduling this test.