What Is a Heart PET Scan?
A positron emission tomography (PET) scan of the heart is an
imaging test that uses specialized dye to allow your doctor to view problems
with your heart.
The dye contains radioactive tracers, which concentrate on areas
of the heart that may be injured or diseased. Using a PET scanner, your doctor
can spot these areas of concern.
A heart PET scan is typically an outpatient procedure, meaning
you will not have to stay at the hospital overnight. This is typically a
Why a Heart PET Scan Is Done
Your doctor may order a heart PET scan if you are experiencing
symptoms of heart trouble. Symptoms of heart trouble include:
- irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- pain in your chest
- tightness in your chest
- trouble breathing
- profuse sweating
Your doctor may also order a heart PET scan if other heart tests,
such as an echocardiogram (ECG) or cardiac stress test, don’t provide
your doctor with enough information. A heart PET scan can also be used to track
the effectiveness of heart disease treatments.
The Risks of a Heart PET Scan
While the scan does use radioactive tracers, your exposure is
minimal. According to the Mayo
Clinic, the exposure level is too low to affect the normal processes of your
body and is not regarded as a major risk.
Other risks of a heart PET scan include:
- uncomfortable feelings if you are claustrophobic
- slight pain from the needle prick
- muscle soreness from laying on the hard exam
This test’s benefits far outweigh the minimal risks.
may be harmful to a fetus or newborn. If you suspect you may be pregnant,
or you are nursing, your doctor may recommend another form of testing.
How to Prepare for a Heart PET Scan
Your doctor will provide you with complete instructions about
preparing for your heart PET scan. Alert your doctor to any medications you may
be taking, whether they are prescription, over-the-counter, or even nutritional
You may be instructed not to eat anything for up to eight hours
before your procedure. You will, however, be able to drink water.
If you are pregnant, believe you may be pregnant, or are
nursing, tell your doctor. This test may be unsafe for your unborn or
You should also tell your
doctor about any medical conditions you have. For example, if you have
diabetes, you may need special instructions for the test, as the fasting
beforehand could affect your blood sugar levels.
Immediately before the test, you may be asked to change into a
hospital gown and to remove all of your jewelry.
How a Heart PET Scan Is Performed
First, you will be seated in a chair. A technician will then
insert an IV into your arm. Through this IV, a special dye with radioactive
tracers will be injected into your veins. Your body needs time to absorb the
tracers, so you will wait about an hour. During this time, a technician will attach
electrodes for an electrocardiogram (ECG) to your chest so your heart rate can
also be monitored.
Next, you will undergo the scan. This involves lying on a narrow
table attached to the PET machine. The table will glide slowly and smoothly
into the machine. You will have to lie as still as possible during the scans.
At certain times, the technician will tell you to remain motionless. This
allows the clearest pictures to be taken.
After the correct images have been stored in the computer, you
will be able to slide out of the machine. The technician will then remove the
electrodes, and the test is finished.
After a Heart PET Scan
It’s a good idea to drink plenty of fluids after the test to help
flush the tracers out of your system. Generally, all tracers are naturally
flushed out of your body after two days.
A specialist trained in reading PET scans will interpret your
images and share the information with your doctor. Your doctor will then go over
the results with you at a follow-up appointment.
What a Heart PET Scan Can Find
A heart PET scan provides your doctor with a detailed image of
your heart. This allows them to see which areas of the heart are experiencing
decreased blood flow and which areas are damaged or contain scar tissue.
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
Using the images, your doctor may diagnose coronary artery
disease (CAD), which means that the arteries that carry blood and oxygen to
your heart have become hardened, narrowed, or blocked. They might then order an
angioplasty, insertion of stents to expand the artery and relieve any narrowing
or, in more serious cases, coronary artery bypass surgery.
An angioplasty involves
placing a thin catheter (soft tube) with a balloon at its tip through a blood vessel
until it reaches the narrowed, blocked artery. Once the catheter is in the
desired location, your doctor will inflate the balloon. This balloon will press
the plaque (the cause of the blockage) against the artery wall. Blood can then
flow smoothly through the artery.
In more serious cases of CAD, coronary bypass surgery will be ordered. This surgery
involves attaching a part of a vein from your leg or an artery from your chest
or wrist to the coronary artery above and below the narrowed or blocked area.
This newly attached vein or artery will then allow blood to “bypass” the
Heart failure is
diagnosed when the heart is no longer able to provide enough blood to the rest
of your body. A severe case of coronary artery disease is often the cause.
Heart failure can also be caused by:
- cardiomyopathy (an infection that causes
weakening of your heart muscles)
- congenital heart disease
- heart attack
- heart valve disease
- abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
- diseases such as emphysema, overactive or
underactive thyroid, or anemia
In the case of heart failure, your doctor may prescribe
medications or order surgery. They may order an angioplasty, coronary bypass
surgery, or heart valve surgery. Your doctor may also want to insert a
pacemaker or a defibrillator, which are devices that maintain a regular
Depending on your results, your doctor may talk to you about
further testing and treatment.