What Is Cardiac Nuclear Medicine?

K.C. Bruning
K.C. Bruning

Cardiac nuclear medicine treats and diagnoses conditions by using radioactive matter to enhance medical imaging. The materials that typically are used are either radiotracers or radiopharmaceuticals. A small amount of this matter can illuminate areas that would otherwise be impossible or extremely difficult to see.

The procedure is commonly used to diagnose diseases such as cardiomyopathy and coronary artery disease. It also can help a doctor evaluate damage to the heart from medical procedures such as chemotherapy or a heart attack. Images from theses tests can also give doctors valuable information about blood flow, pumping action and buildup in the arteries.

There are several ways in which a professional who practices cardiac nuclear medicine can place the radioactive matter in the patient. It can be inhaled via gas, swallowed or administered with an intravenous injection. After the matter is in the body, the imaging technician gives it time to spread.

When the radioactive material is in the correct place, a special scanner is used to detect the rays that it emits. It then creates images of the targeted areas, and the images are transmitted to a computer screen. The technician makes hard copies of these images for the doctor to examine.

Some of the imaging procedures simply require the patient to stand still while information is collected. Others necessitate some form of exercise, such as riding a stationary bike or walking in place on a treadmill so that the flow of blood can be studied accurately. All procedures require that the patient refrain from smoking or consuming caffeine for a minimum of two days before the imaging. The patient must also cease drinking and eating for several hours before the procedure.

Cardiac nuclear medicine procedures typically are painless and non-invasive. The information gathered from this kind of medical imaging was once possible to gather only during surgery or through other invasive means. Now the same results can be obtained from a less risky procedure that does not require recovery time. It also is less expensive.

The development of cardiac nuclear medicine has enabled medical professionals to more accurately diagnose and treat disease. By making it easier to see all areas of the heart, the radioactive material can help a doctor make a more thorough examination of the image. This not only increases the accuracy of diagnosis, it also enables the medical professional to make a better analysis of overall health and thus determine the progress of the disease or damage.

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