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Blog: How Nuclear Medicine Works

How Nuclear Medicine Works

More than 30 million Americans have heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. Many types of heart disease can be treated or even prevented. The key is diagnosing heart problems early, so treatment can begin as soon as possible.

At Phoenix Heart, PLLCour team uses a variety of tests and evaluations to look for signs of heart disease and to manage treatment if you’ve already been diagnosed with cardiovascular issues. Often, nuclear medicine plays a pivotal role in evaluating how well your heart is functioning, so our team can devise a treatment plan based on your needs.

Nuclear medicine and cardiology

Nuclear medicine uses very tiny amounts of radioactive materials (called radiotracers) to evaluate how well your heart and arteries are working and to identify areas of heart damage. Although nuclear imaging might sound a little scary, the test is completely safe, and it’s one of the best ways to obtain detailed information that can help your heart stay healthy.

Nuclear imaging is used in many areas of medicine. In cardiology, nuclear medicine is used to perform nuclear stress testing, often in combination with an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), which measures the electrical activity of your heart.

Nuclear stress tests are often used in patients with coronary artery disease (CAD) or when CAD is suspected. CAD is the most common type of heart disease, and it happens when blood flow in your coronary arteries is impeded, usually by a buildup of deposits inside the arteries. It’s also used to check for diseases of the heart muscle and to evaluate current treatments or recent medical procedures.

What to expect during your nuclear stress test

A nuclear stress test measures how your heart and coronary arteries respond to the physical stress of exercise. During the test, you’ll walk on a treadmill for a short period of time to “ramp up” the activity in your heart and the coronary arteries that supply it with blood.

Before the test, your doctor places sticky electrodes on your chest and back to monitor your heart’s activity throughout the test. The doctor also inserts a very thin tube called a catheter into your arm. The catheter delivers the radiotracer solution to your veins during the test.

After the treadmill portion of the test, your doctor uses a special camera designed to measure radioactivity emitted by the radiotracers. A computer uses those measurements to create detailed video images of your heart and arteries. 

Images are captured right after your test and again after a brief period of rest, providing in-depth information about your heart’s function and structure. The entire test takes about 2-4 hours, including the time spent preparing for the test and waiting for the radiotracer material to reach your heart. 

The right test for your heart

Nuclear stress testing is just one type of test we offer at our offices in Glendale, Goodyear, Anthem, and Canyon City, Arizona. Our team recommends the most appropriate test based on your medical history, your symptoms, and other factors, so you can feel confident about your care.

To learn more about nuclear stress testing, including how to prepare for your test, book an appointment with Phoenix Heart online or over the phone today.

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