Nuclear Cardiology is the branch of clinical cardiology that performs non-invasive tests utilizing small amounts of radioactive material to evaluate the heart. These imaging techniques allow your physician to evaluate your heart in action during stress testing. The tests are used to determine the presence of coronary artery disease, as well as its progression.
During the non-invasive (non-surgical) nuclear cardiology test, small amounts of radioactive substances called “tracers” are used. Tracers allow your cardiologist to evaluate you for the presence of heart disease.
The substance is injected into a vein and will, for a short time, adhere to the heart muscle. The amount of material present in the heart is detected by a special camera. This camera is termed a “Gamma Camera” and is in essence a technologically sophisticated “geiger counter.” The images that it produces can let your doctor know how well your heart is functioning and if any area of the heart is not getting enough blood. Lack of blood flow to areas of the heart may indicate that there are narrowed parts in the coronary arteries or possible problems with the heart muscle itself.
The images produced by the nuclear imaging study show the muscle of the heart in different colors. These different colors correlate to the different areas of the heart and the amount of blood that area is receiving. By comparing images of the heart at rest and when it is beating fast (under stress) doctors can assess the change in blood flow to a particular area, which may indicate the presence of coronary artery disease.
Nuclear Stress Testing is the most common nuclear cardiology exam done today throughout the country. The exam may be requested by your cardiologist for many different reasons. Indications for nuclear stress testing include: