Heart Scan, nuclear stress test, nuclear scan

Stress Test with Myocardial (Heart Muscle) Isotope Perfusion Heart Scan

A Myocardial (heart muscle) Perfusion Heart Scan is a type of medical test that allows your doctor to get important information about the health of your heart. It's often performed to diagnose chest pain and other heart attack symptoms. During a myocardial perfusion heart scan, a safe, radioactive material called a tracer is injected through a vein into your bloodstream. The tracer then travels to your heart. The tracer releases energy, which special cameras outside of your body detect. The cameras use the energy to create pictures of different parts of your heart.

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This type of heart scan is used for three main purposes:

  1. To provide information about the flow of blood through the heart muscle. If the isotope perfusion heart scan shows that one part of the heart muscle isnít receiving blood, itís 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 be a chest pain cause (angina) and lead to heart attack and other heart problems. When a heart scan is performed for this purpose, itís called a myocardial perfusion scan.

  2. To look for damaged heart muscle. Damage may be due to a previous heart attack, injury, infection, or medicine. When an isotope perfusion heart scan is performed for this purpose, itís called a myocardial viability test.

  3. To see how well your heart pumps blood out to your body. When an isotope perfusion heart scan is performed for this purpose, itís called a ventricular function scan.

    Usually, two sets of pictures are taken during a heart scan. The first set is taken soon after a heart stress test performed usually on a treadmill. If you canít exercise, your heart rate can be increased using medicines such as adenosine, dipyridamole, or dobutamine.

    The second set of pictures is taken later, when the heart is at rest and beating at a normal rate.

Adapted from National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, July, 2007