A cardiac nuclear scan is an imaging procedure in which a small amount of radioactive material is injected into a vein. (The radioactive material does not harm your body or organs.) A special camera (a gamma camera, see below) and a computer take pictures of the heart. Sometimes the pictures are taken during a stress test as well.
These tests help your doctor assess the function of your heart and the flow of blood to the heart muscle. Nuclear medicine tests may identify whether more investigation is needed into signs and symptoms of heart disease and aid in diagnosing and treating your condition. Nuclear cardiology tests may be done while you are in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center or after you are discharged.
Nuclear imaging stress tests are safe. 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.
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 For Patients section has instructions for preparing for a nuclear medicine study.
During the Test
A nuclear medicine study will be performed at the S. Mark Taper Foundation Imaging Center
Please allow three to four hours for the entire test.
You will receive two injections of a small amount of radioactive material. The level of radioactivity used is extremely low and has no side effects.
To minimize the number of injections you receive, an intravenous line (IV) will be placed in your arm prior to your first injection (thallium) and will be re-used later for your second injection (Cardiolite).
Following your first injection, you will be placed under a gamma camera and pictures of your heart will be recorded. This camera does not produce any radiation. It will be placed close to your chest and pictures will be taken for approximately 30 minutes. This portion of the test is called the rest study.
Following your rest study, our trained staff will place EKG leads on your chest. The EKG will be used to constantly monitor your heart during your stress test.
Your heart will be stressed, either through exercise or through the use of medication.
During the test you will be constantly monitored by a Nurse Practitioner or a Physician.
The actual stress portion of the test takes about 10 to 15 minutes, however the preparation takes longer (up to 30 minutes).
Before the end of the stress test, a second injection (Cardiolite) will be administered. This radiopharmaceutical is taken up by your heart muscle and can be visualized by the gamma camera in the same manner as the rest study.
The imaging portion of your stress study will take approximately 45 minutes.
Types of Scans
Four types of heart scans are used: