Imaging the Heart: What You Need to Know

Cardiac SPECT is an important diagnostic tool.

Patient treatment is enhanced through:

  • Early detection of disease
  • Accurate assessment of myocardial perfusion, function and viability

What is a SPECT scan?

  • Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) is a non-invasive procedure that can accurately identify areas of abnormal myocardial perfusion, determine the functional capacity of your heart muscle, and separate viable (living) from non-viable (irreversibly damaged) tissue.
  • In the evaluation of myocardial perfusion, or blood flow through the coronary arteries, the SPECT scan may require both a resting and a stress test.
  • The stress test is performed either by treadmill exercise or with medication if the patient cannot walk on the treadmill.
  • The cardiac SPECT scan can identify areas of the heart which do not receive adequate blood flow during stress, called ischemia, as well as find areas of irreversibly damaged heart, or scar.

How does a cardiac SPECT scan work?

  • Blood flow through the coronary arteries is typically adequate at rest, even in partially blocked vessels.
  • Under conditions of stress, such as during administration of certain medications or while on a treadmill, blood flow in a narrowed artery is significantly reduced.
  • By comparing the images of blood flow during rest and stress, the cardiac SPECT scan can accurately determine whether patients have coronary blockages (stenosis), scarring (due to prior heart attack), or normal perfusion, function and viability.
  • SPECT perfusion imaging can also measure the function of the heart muscle. Knowing how the heart works can be an important independent predictor of future events.

Preparing for your SPECT scan

  • Eat a light breakfast 2 hours prior to test.
  • For 24 hours prior to your study, refrain from caffeine-containing foods or beverages
  • If you have diabetes, discuss this with your physician and call the imaging center staff 48 hours before your scan.
  • If you are, or think you may be pregnant, discuss this with your physician. Generally, SPECT is not performed on pregnant women.

What to bring and wear

  • Bring your insurance cards.
  • Bring a list of medications currently being taken and reports of any previous cardiac studies not performed at Augusta Health if possible.
  • Wear warm, comfortable clothes. The scanner room is cool. Wear walking shoes or sneakers if you expect to walk on the treadmill.

Your SPECT scan

  • After registering, you will go to a preparation area where a nuclear medicine technologist will insert a small IV into your arm.
  • A radiopharmaceutical will be injected into the IV. After a waiting period you will be sent to the imaging room to obtain images of your heart at rest.
  • You will be brought to the stress room where you will be connected to monitoring wires.
  • You will be instructed on the proper technique for walking on the treadmill and the exam will be explained.
  • If you cannot walk on the treadmill, a medication will be injected through an IV that will cause your blood flow to increase as it would if you were exercising.
  • During the infusion of the stressor medication, you may experience flushing, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, lightheadedness or nausea. This is temporary and disappears within seconds of completion of the infusion. Many patients experience no symptoms at all.
  • Once you have reached the desired heart rate or during the medication stress test, you will receive another painless injection of a radiopharmaceutical.
  • You will return to the imaging room to obtain images of your heart after stress (exercise) within 30-60 minutes.
  • The entire procedure will take 2.0 to 3.0 hours.

Arrive on time

  • Please arrive 15 to 30 minutes before your scheduled appointment to complete paperwork.
  • If you must cancel or reschedule, please do so at least 24-48 hours before your appointment.

After your scan

  • You can leave immediately.
  • Your activity will not be restricted. You may drive if you wish, resume your normal diet, exercise and take all prescribed medications.
  • The cardiac SPECT scan will be reviewed by a physician who will send a report to your doctor.
  • Your doctor will contact you about the results of your SPECT scan.