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:

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:

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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.
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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: