What is a Nuclear Cardiology Test?
Nuclear cardiology tests measure the amount of blood flow to the heart muscle. Doctors use these tests to diagnose and assess coronary artery disease and cardiac ischemia (decreased blood flow and oxygen to the heart muscle). These tests are also called heart perfusion imaging tests or cardiac nuclear stress scans.
Two Types of Nuclear Cardiology Tests
We are one of only a few heart centers to offer two types of nuclear cardiology tests:
- Cardiac SPECT (Single Photon Emission/ Computed Tomography)
- Cardiac PET-CT (Positron Emission Tomography/ Computed Axial Tomography)
Both tests begin with an injection of radioactive chemicals (radionuclides) into your bloodstream through an IV. The radionuclides give off gamma rays, which are detected by imaging equipment that includes a gamma camera plus an attached CT scanner. The resulting picture, called a nuclear or PET scan, helps your doctor assess blood flow to your heart muscle and assess heart function.
During cardiac PET-CT, additional images and measurements are taken, including the following:
- Structural (or anatomical) images of your coronary arteries
- A calcium score, or a measurement of the calcium deposits in your coronary arteries
- A measurement of blood flow to your heart muscle tissue. This helps your doctor determine if you have disease in more than one of your coronary arteries (called multi-vessel disease)
This images shows a Cardiac SPECT test. You will lie on a table under a gamma camera, often with your arms over your head. Pillows will be used to make you comfortable.
This images shows a Cardiac PET-CT test. You will be asked to lie on a scanning table made especially for the camera.
Stress Test Component
Nuclear cardiology tests can be done under conditions of rest and stress. During the test, images are first taken of your heart while you are at a relaxed heart rate.
Then, you exercise on a treadmill. If you cannot exercise, the technician can administer a medication that stresses your heart as if you were exercising.
Measuring your heart function under stress helps your doctor assess blockages in the flow of blood to your heart. Doctors may also call this exam a nuclear stress test.
Reasons for Nuclear Cardiology Tests
Nuclear cardiology tests are used for several purposes:
- To evaluate blood supply to areas of damaged heart muscle after a heart attack
- To assess whether you have coronary artery disease and to measure how much your arteries are blocked
- To predict if you would benefit from additional procedures, such as cardiac catheterization or bypass surgery
- To measure the effectiveness of treatments such as cardiac catheterization or bypass surgery
- To determine impact of coronary calcium and coronary ischemia on your heart muscle
- To assess your need for treatment with medications and lifestyle changes versus medical procedures or surgeries
Intermountain Heart Institute has vast expertise in all aspects of nuclear cardiology testing. We are also progressive and offer the most advanced and least invasive imaging technology.
We are the only facility in the Intermountain West that has a PET-CT scanner dedicated to heart patients. This technology allows us to perform the most comprehensive nuclear stress imaging for each and every patient – an invaluable resource in the detection, prevention and treatment of heart disease.
Learn what happens (and what you need to do) before, during and after this procedure:
Where do I go?
Nuclear cardiology tests are performed in our Nuclear Cardiology/Cardiac PET-CT Lab. An order from your doctor is required.
Monday through Friday
Intermountain Medical Center – Building 4
(Heart & Lung Center, west side of hospital).
Follow the signs to Patient Registration on the first floor.
After you register you will go down one floor to our lobby and waiting area. When it is time for your procedure, your name will be called and you will be led to the testing area.
Saturday and Sunday
Intermountain Medical Center – Building 9 (Emergency Department, east side of hospital near Costco).
Register in the Admitting/Bed Control Area.
If you have questions please call us: (801) 507-4701.