In the United States, over 500,000 people succumb to coronary artery disease annually. Fortunately, significant progress has been made in detecting and managing heart disease over the past twenty years. Nuclear cardiology, a specialized field within cardiology, utilizes advanced medical imaging techniques and radioactive materials to assess, analyze, and treat heart conditions. This approach has played a crucial role in diagnosing heart disease, predicting outcomes, and evaluating the extent of damage caused by coronary artery disease.

What is the Purpose Of Nuclear Cardiology?

Nuclear imaging is a unique approach for evaluating the functionality of organs rather than just their appearance. It involves injecting a small and safe amount of radioactive tracer solution into the body via an intravenous injection. A special camera is used to detect the tracer solution in different parts of the body, generating a series of images of the heart with the help of a computer.

In addition to assessing blood flow to the heart muscle during stress and rest, nuclear cardiac imaging can accurately evaluate heart function and detect past heart attacks. This advanced imaging technique is also helpful in identifying coronary heart disease, assessing the severity of prior heart attacks, and predicting the risk of future heart attacks.

Types of Nuclear Biology:

Myocardial Perfusion Scans (MPS)

Nuclear cardiology studies utilize noninvasive techniques to evaluate myocardial blood flow, assess the heart’s pumping function, and visualize the location and size of a heart attack. Myocardial perfusion imaging is the most commonly utilized technique in nuclear cardiology. The MPS test is divided into two parts: stress and rest scans.

During the latter part of the test, a radioactive tracer will be injected into a vein in the arm. The tracer is absorbed into the heart muscle with blood flow at rest. After waiting for 40 minutes, a scan is performed using a specialized cardiac gamma camera. This camera captures images of the distribution of the radioactive tracer in the heart muscle. At the same time, lying flat on the scanning bed with arms above the head for around 5 minutes. The gamma camera will come close to the chest but not touch or cause any discomfort.

In the stress test, the patient will receive a drug through a cannula in their arm that imitates the effects of exercise by widening their coronary arteries. It’s a pharmacological stress test, and blood pressure and ECG will be monitored throughout the procedure. Once the arteries have widened, a radioactive tracer will also be given, which will be absorbed into the heart muscle according to blood flow while exercising. After waiting for 40 minutes, corresponding images will be taken. By comparing the distribution of the radioactive tracer in the heart muscle between both scans, doctors can determine the presence of any blocked or narrowed coronary arteries.

Positron Emission Tomography (Pet)

Noninvasive PET studies provide valuable information on the heart muscle’s blood supply and metabolic activity. These studies can identify areas of inadequate blood flow due to blockages in the heart’s arteries and those scarred from past heart attacks. Additionally, they can determine which damaged areas have the potential to recover if the patient undergoes bypass surgery or angioplasty. This ability to distinguish between irreversibly damaged and potentially recoverable heart muscle is a significant advantage of PET imaging. Furthermore, PET studies can evaluate the nervous system of the heart and aid in determining whether a patient is a good candidate for bypass surgery or angioplasty. The broader availability of PET imaging cameras has significantly increased the use of PET imaging in recent years.


A nuclear cardiology test is a medical procedure that uses a small amount of radioactive substance, a tracer or radionuclide, to observe a patient’s blood flow at rest and during activity. This allows a camera to detect any potential heart conditions. While the test is usually safe, it is not recommended for pregnant individuals or those with a low risk of heart attack. Upon receiving the results, individuals can consult their doctor, who may recommend further tests or treatments if necessary.