Nuclear studies use small amounts of a radioactive material injected into a vein to create images of how blood flows through your heart. The radioactive material does not harm your body or organs.
Nuclear medicine studies show the size of your heart's chambers, how well your heart pumps blood and whether your heart has any muscle damage. Nuclear stress tests can also give doctors information about whether your arteries are narrowed or blocked from coronary artery disease. The images are created by a special camera (a gamma camera, shown at left) and a computer. Sometimes these images are taken during a stress test as well. Nuclear studies help your cardiologist decide whether more investigation is needed into the symptoms of heart disease as well has helping to diagnose and treat your condition. Nuclear studies maybe done either while you are in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center or as an outpatient.
If you are going to have a nuclear study:
- Do not eat or drink anything that has caffeine, including coffee, tea, decaffeinated products, chocolate, cocoa, soda or some over-the-counter pain relievers for 24 hours before the procedure. Caffeine is sometimes included in unexpected places, so it is wise to read the labels of anything you eat, drink or swallow for 24 hours before the test.
- The following drugs may be stopped before a stress test: beta-blockers (Inderal, Lopressor or metoprolol, Sectral, Tenormin or atenolol, coreg or carvedilol, Visken or Corgard®, etc.), calcium-channel blockers (Norvasc®, Calan®, Cardizem, Isoptin® or Procardia and nitrates (Isordil®, Imdur®, or Nitro-bid, etc.) Be sure to ask your doctor before stopping these drugs and follow his or her instructions. Other drugs may need to be discontinued before the test, such as asthma drugs. If you take insulin to control your blood sugar, discuss this with your doctor and find out how much insulin you should take the day of the test.
For nuclear studies that are combined with a stress test, the following should be observed:
- Nothing to eat or drink for four hours before the test
- Wear good walking shoes, preferably ones with rubber soles
If you are pregnant (or suspect that you might be), let your doctor or nurse know. These tests should not generally be done on pregnant patients.
Complications may occur in only one case out of every 1,000 to 2,000 tests done. These complications involve rare skin rashes, large fluctuations in blood pressure, irregular heart beats (arrhythmias) and difficulty breathing or asthma-like reactions. These, and any additional risks that may apply specifically to you, will be explained in advance by your doctor and the health care provider doing the test.