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A SPECT scan of the heart is a noninvasive nuclear imaging test. This test is commonly called a “nuclear stress test”. The test uses radioactive tracers that are injected into the blood and absorbed by the heart muscle to produce pictures of the heart. Doctors use SPECT to diagnose coronary artery disease and find out if a heart attack has occurred. SPECT can show how well blood is flowing to the heart and how well the heart is working.
To begin a SPECT scan, radioactive tracers are injected into the patient’s blood. The patient then lies on a table under the camera of the scanner. The tracers are taken up by living heart tissue and produce a type of energy called gamma rays. A gamma camera picks up these rays and a computer converts them into images of the heart. These images are produced in “slices” that can be produced from different directions and angles. The images can be used to create a 3-dimensional image. Typically, two sets of pictures are taken; one at rest and one immediately after a stress test. Areas of lightness or darkness or areas of colors represent the amount of tracers taken up by the heart and the relative blood flow reaching that tissue. By comparing the pictures taken following stress testing to the pictures taken at rest it is possible to detect the presence of blockages or whether there may have been a heart attack at some time.
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