What are the Risks of a Nuclear Heart Scan?

Updated at: Sep 12, 2018
What are the Risks of a Nuclear Heart Scan?

A nuclear heart scan is a test based on the use of a safe radioactive substance injected into the veins to create a useful picture of the heart. While the test is safe, it may not be suitable for everyone as it may pose some risks.

Meenakshi Chaudhary
Heart HealthWritten by: Meenakshi ChaudharyPublished at: Feb 12, 2018

A nuclear heart scan is a test that uses a safe, radioactive substance to provide important information about the health of your heart. The radioactive substance also called a radiotracer, is injected into the bloodstream through a vein where it travels to the heart and releases energy. A special camera outside of the body detects the uptake energy of the radioactive substance and creates pictures of the heart. Although the test uses a safe radioactive substance, it may have some small risks associated with it.

The test usually involves two sets of pictures, where the first set is taken right after a stress test, while the heart is beating fast. The second set is taken later, while the heart is at rest and beating at a normal rate.

The resulting images provide information about the coronary arteries and heart function. There are three common types of nuclear heart scans based on the type of the radiotracer used. The three types are the myocardial infarction scan, myocardial perfusion scan, and multigated-acquisition.


The nuclear heart scans are mainly used for three main purposes:

To Check Blood Flow:

The test is commonly used to check the blood flow to the parts of the heart. If a part of the heart muscles isn't getting blood, it may be a sign of coronary heart disease. A myocardial perfusion scanning is used for the purpose of checking the blood flow.

To Look for Damaged Heart Muscle:

The nuclear heart scan can also help doctors identify isolate any damage to the heart muscle. The damage might be from a previous heart attack, an injury, infection, or some medications. Myocardial viability testing is used to check for the damages to the heart muscle.

To Check the Heart Functioning:

A ventricular function scanning can also help doctors monitor and determine the functioning of the heart. It can easily show how well the heart pumps blood to the body.

Risks Associated with it:

While the nuclear heart scan may help doctors diagnose and manage heart conditions, such as coronary heart disease, decide the best course of treatment, predict short-term or long-term survival and determine your risk for a heart attack, the nuclear heart scan can have some minor risks of its own.

Although, the radioactive tracer used during nuclear heart scanning is safe and exposes the body to only a very small amount of radiation without any risk of a long-term effect. However, people who may need multiple scans may be at risk for some harm from the radiation. In a rare case, the radioactive tracer may also trigger allergic reactions in some people.

The test is usually not recommended for pregnant women as even the smallest radiation may be harmful to the child as well the mother. If a pregnant woman needs a nuclear heart scan it is usually delayed until after pregnancy. People with coronary heart disease may experience some chest pain during the stress test.

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