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 same-day procedure.
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 table
This test’s benefits far outweigh the minimal risks.
However, radiation 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 supplements.
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 nursing child.
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.