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Nuclear Medicine Imaging - Heart Scans

The information given below is a brief summary only.  If you are a patient attending for a scan, please read your appointment letter and patient information leaflet carefully for more detailed information.

The muscles of the heart require a good supply of blood in order to function properly.   Problems with the arteries in the heart can result in this blood supply becoming reduced, which in turn can lead to symptoms such as breathlessness and chest pain. 

A nuclear medicine heart scan is a way of identifying whether cardiac symptoms are being caused by a reduced flow of blood to the heart, and can help cardiologists decide what treatment to offer. 

Two scans are required, with the second scan performed a week after the first.  For the first scan, patients are given medication that produces a pattern of blood flow in the heart that is similar to that found during exercise.  A small injection of radio-tracer is also given, and images are acquired using a specialised scanner that shows the distribution of blood within the heart muscle.  For the second scan, which shows the pattern of blood flow when the patient is at rest, only the radio-tracer is required.

By comparing the two scans, the reporting cardiologist is able to assess the likelihood of there being a problem with the arteries of the heart.  Occasionally, it is possible to make a diagnosis after the first scan, in which case the second test is not required.

The image below shows cross-sectional views through the heart and demonstrates the pattern of blood flow during exercise.  The brighter, orange regions show good blood flow, the darker, purple areas show where blood flow is reduced.

The image below is from the same patient but shows blood flow at rest.  The pattern is generally improved, with most areas showing good blood flow (bright orange).  The change in the pattern of blood flow seen here is strongly suggestive of reversible ischaemic heart disease (angina).