Nuclear Cardiac Studies

A nuclear cardiac study is an exam that uses radioactive isotopes in conjunction with a gamma camera to capture images of the heart. This test shows your cardiologist how the blood flows to your heart and how your heart pumps while under rest and stress.

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Heart, Vascular & Lung Care

You may be given a nuclear stress test if your doctor suspects you have coronary artery disease or another heart problem including; chest pain, shortness of breath (SOB), hypertension (high blood pressure), abnormal cardiac blood work, history of coronary artery disease (CAD), detection of viable cardiac tissue (viability exam) and cardiac risk stratification prior to surgery.

What is a nuclear cardiac study?

It is an exam to evaluate the heart blood flow and function. There are a few variations of nuclear stress tests which include walking on the treadmill for those patients that can tolerate exercise and pharmacologic (medicine) agents to stress the heart for those patients that have little or no exercise tolerance. Most nuclear stress tests take approximately two hours to complete. Modification of the stress test can be done by request from the Cardiologist, referring physician or due to a patient’s condition.

The procedure is as follows:

  • The patient will be interviewed by the technologist to make sure prep was followed and contraindications to do the test do not exist
  • An injection of a radioisotope is given into an IV started in a vein in the hand or arm
  • The patient will wait for 15-30 minutes prior to resting images the heart
  • The patient will be placed on a table on their back underneath a gamma camera for resting images of the heart. The images take 10-15 minutes
  • The patient’s heart is monitored and stressed either by walking on the treadmill or pharmacologic means. During the stress portion of the test, a second injection of the radioisotope is given to the patient through the IV
  • The patient will wait for 15-30 minutes prior to the stress images of the heart
  • The patient will be placed on a table on their back underneath a gamma camera for the stress images of the heart. The images take 10-15 minutes
  • The test is complete and results will be reviewed by a Cardiologist
  • There are no restrictions for the patient following a nuclear stress test

Multi Gated Acquisition (MUGA) Scan

Nuclear studies include a Multi Gated Acquisition Scan (MUGA) scan. This involves an IV injection and a gamma camera. A resting MUGA scan is a nuclear scan to evaluate how well the heart walls move and a quantitative evaluation of how well the heart pumps, while the patient is at rest. Most MUGA scans take approximately one hour.

The procedure is as follows;

  • The patient is interviewed by the technologist performing the exam
  • An IV is started in the patients hand or arm and 3-5 cc of blood is taken so it can be mixed with a radioisotope
  • The patient will wait approximately 20 minutes
  • The patient is injected with their blood and the radioisotope and the patient will be placed on a table on their back underneath a gamma camera for resting images of the heart. The patient’s heart rate will be monitored during the scan. The images generally take about 30 minutes
  • The test is complete and results will be reviewed by a Cardiologist
  • There are no restrictions for the patient following a MUGA scan

How to Prepare

  • You will be asked not to eat, drink or smoke for several hours before a nuclear stress test. You may be asked to stop certain medications for a time period.
  • You may be asked to bring your medications or supply a list to your appointment  
  • If you use an inhaler for asthma or other breathing problems, bring it with you to the test. Make sure your doctor and the health care team member monitoring your stress test know that you use an inhaler.
  • Wear or bring comfortable clothes with you to the exercise stress test.

Are There Risks With A Nuclear Test?

A nuclear stress test is usually safe. Potential side effects of the stress test include:
  • Blood pressure fluctuations during or after exercise
  • EKG changes/Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias).
  • Flushing sensation
  • Stomach pain or pressure
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • SOB
  • Rapid heart rate