Heart Scanning-Nuclear Heart Scan

Heart Scanning is the usual term used to refer to Nuclear Heart Scan which is essentially a medical test aimed at gauging the overall health of the human heart. Nuclear Heart Scan is a safe and painless procedure wherein the slightest of discomfort comes forth during the phase of injecting a radioactive material that is also called a Tracer. The tracer is injected into the bloodstream from where it travels towards the heart. Being a radioactive compound, the tracer is bound to release energy in the form of certain radiations that are captured by medical cameras that surround the patient. These cameras are called Gamma Cameras since they capture the gamma rays emitted by the tracer.

Applications of Nuclear Heart Scanning

Nuclear Heart Scans are particularly useful for finding about the health of the cardiac muscles, particularly the manner in which blood flows through the muscles. This testing procedure is further divided into two, basic types. These are:

  • Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography that is also called SPECT or Cardiac SPECT Scan
  • Cardiac Positron Emission Tomography that is also called PET or Cardiac PET Scan

(Among these two variations, SPECT is considered the more conventional and established testing approach while PET is a bit recent but equally effective)

Nuclear Heart Scans are considered the ideal testing method for diagnosing and managing typical cardiac disease such as Coronary Artery Disease (CAD). They are also used as a part of regular check-ups done for people with a history of heart attacks or when a heart attack is suspected, i.e. heart scanning can determine effect of a heart attack and help physicians gauge the risk of the individual suffering heart attacks in the near future. Heart Scanning is also done as a part of post-operative management of people who have undergone a cardiac transplant.

Apart from helping physicians diagnose heart conditions, Nuclear Heart Scan also helps to decide the best course-of-treatment, help predict the chances of fatality and evaluate the need for further testing such as Coronary Angiography or Catheterization. Some cardiologists use heart scanning for getting a clearer perspective on the type of procedures that are best suited for increasing the flow of blood among coronary arteries. This includes procedures like Angioplasty and Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (CABG).

Understand Dynamics of Nuclear Heart Scan

A Nuclear Heart Scan can be recommended by a certified healthcare practitioner only, ideally a cardiologist. For this, the physician needs to discuss the overall health status of the patient, focusing upon health problems indicative of labored cardiac performance such as asthma, difficulty in breathing and bouts of chest pain. Patients diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), kidney diseases or diabetes are usually recommended heart scans as a part of their overall medical care.

Heart Scanning is usually performed under the observation of a cardiologist, in consultation with a radiologist and often, it also involves a dedicated technician who operates the Nuclear Heart Scanning equipment. During standard Nuclear Heart Scanning, two sets of images are obtained. One set is the normal state of the heart and the other when the heart is beating faster. The former set of images can be interpreted as evaluating the condition of heart in a resting phase while the latter is that of the heart in an excited state.

While there are no special preparations for the resting phase heart scanning, for the second type of images, the patient’s heart needs to beat faster-than-usual. Thus, the scanning technician often requests the patient to exercise on a stationary bike or spend a few minutes on the treadmill. A Nuclear Heart Scan session can be a bit time-consuming. It usually takes more than two hours and it can take up to 4 hours among some patients. Sometimes, patients are requested to revisit the testing facility on the second day for getting a clearer set of images. There are no after-effects of this test and patients can resume their daily routines after being released from the testing facility.