What must one expect during a Nuclear Heart Scan?

By  ,  National Institute of Health
Jan 08, 2013

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Many, but not all, nuclear medicine centers are located in hospitals. A doctor who has special training in nuclear heart scans—a cardiologist or radiologist—will oversee the test.

Cardiologists are doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating heart problems. Radiologists are doctors who specialize in diagnostic techniques, such as nuclear scans.

Before the test begins, the doctor or a technician will use a needle to insert an intravenous (IV) line into a vein in your arm. Through this IV line, he or she will put the radioactive tracer into your bloodstream at the right time.

You also will have EKG (electrocardiogram) patches attached to your body to check your heart rate during the test.

During the Stress Test

If you're having an exercise stress test as part of your nuclear scan, you'll walk on a treadmill or pedal a stationary bicycle. You'll be attached to EKG and blood pressure monitors.

You'll be asked to exercise until you're too tired to continue, short of breath, or having chest or leg pain. You can expect that your heart will beat faster, you'll breathe faster, your blood pressure will increase, and you'll sweat.

Tell the doctor if you have any chest, arm, or jaw pain or discomfort. Also report any dizziness, lightheadedness, or other unusual symptoms.

If you're unable to exercise, your doctor may give you medicine to make your heart beat faster. This is called a pharmacological stress test. The medicine used may make you feel anxious, sick, dizzy, or shaky for a short time. If the side effects are severe, your doctor may give you other medicine for relief.

Before the exercise or pharmacological stress test stops, the tracer is injected through the IV line.


During the Nuclear Heart Scan

The nuclear heart scan will start shortly after the stress test. You'll lie very still on a padded table.


The nuclear heart scan camera, called a gamma camera, is enclosed in a metal housing. The part of the camera that detects the tracer's radioactivity can be put in several positions around your body as you lie on the padded table.


For some nuclear heart scans, the metal housing is shaped like a doughnut and you lie on a table that goes slowly through the doughnut hole. The computer used to collect the pictures of your heart is nearby or in another room.

Usually, two sets of pictures are taken. One will be taken right after the stress test and the other will be taken after a period of rest. The pictures may be taken all in 1 day or over 2 days. It takes about 15 to 30 minutes to take each set of pictures.


Some people find it hard to stay in one position for some time. Others may feel anxious while lying in the doughnut-shaped scanner. The table may feel hard. Sometimes, the room feels chilly because of the air conditioning needed to maintain the machines.


Let the doctor or technician know how you're feeling during the test so he or she can respond as needed.



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