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September 03, 2021 | Farah Jassawalla

Cardiac PET Scans: Who Needs Them and Why?

What is a Cardiac PET Scan?

A cardiac PET or a positron emission tomography scan is an imaging exam of your heart which uses a special dye to examine problems with your heart. The test consists of a dye and a small amount of radioactive tracer injected into areas of the heart that may be damaged or diseased. 
A PET scanner, a special camera, is used to detect the radiation of the tracer and create images of your heart. You will also get a medical device called a vasodilator which will mimic the effects of exercise on your cardiovascular system and open your blood vessels. This helps your doctor to see if enough blood reaches your heart while you are active compared to resting. This test is also done to determine the extent of heart damage you may have sustained after a heart attack and track your cardiac disease treatment progress.

Why is a Cardiac PET Scan Done?

Heart PET scans are ordered so that your doctor can obtain a detailed image of your heart. These allow them to determine which parts of your heart are getting a reduced level of blood flow and which are damaged or contain scar tissue. It can help your doctor diagnose: 

●coronary artery disease (CAD)
●cardiomyopathy
●congenital heart disease
●heart attack
●heart valve disease
●abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia)
●emphysema
●overactive or underactive thyroid
●anemia

Your healthcare provider may order a cardiac PET scan if you have been experiencing symptoms of heart disease, including:

  • arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • frequent chest pains
  • chest tightness
  • difficulty breathing
  • weakness and fatigue
  • excessive sweating
  • frequently being out of breath

Your physician may also order other imaging or diagnostic exams after a PET, such as an echocardiogram (ECG) or cardiac stress test. This is performed so that your doctor can clear up all probable causes before making a diagnosis.

What are the Risks of a Cardiac Pet Scan?

PET scans use radioactive tracers to view your heart, but the radioactive exposure is minimal. This exposure level is so low that it cannot affect your body's normal functions, and thus this is a very low-risk procedure.
However, if you are pregnant or nursing, the radiation may negatively affect your fetus or newborn. So your doctor will utilize another form of diagnostic testing.
PET scans can have other risks, such as feelings of discomfort if you have claustrophobia, pain at the injection site, and some muscle soreness. However, these are all minimal risks.

How to Prepare For a Cardiac PET Scan?

Before the cardiac PET scan, your doctor will give you complete instructions about your heart PET scan. Take this time to tell your doctor about your medications, nutritional supplements, and special dietary or health needs.
The doctor will instruct you not to eat for up to eight hours before the exam. This fast allows water. You are also instructed not to consume any caffeine or have asthma, not to take theophylline for two days before the test. Before the cardiac PET scan, your doctor will give you complete instructions about your heart PET scan. Take this time to tell your doctor about your medications, nutritional supplements, and special dietary or health needs.
The doctor will instruct you not to eat for up to eight hours before the exam. This fast allows water. You are also instructed not to consume any caffeine or have asthma, not to take theophylline for two days before the test. 

What Is the Procedure of a Heart PET Scan?

The PET scan technician will ask you to remove clothing from the waist up and wear a hospital gown. 
They will perform an EKG on you before and during the test to monitor your heart's electrical activity. For this, they will place some small sticky patches and electrodes on your body. The technician will also check our blood pressure and insert an IV into your arm. This IV will inject you with the medication and tracer for the PET scan.
You will be asked to lie still on a table with a camera over you during the exam. You will first get the tracer injected. After a 20-minute interval, the PET scan technician will take images of your heart during rest.
Afterward, you will get a vasodilator through your IV, which will stimulate a feeling of exercise for your heart. You may feel warm and get a mild, temporary headache. You will get another amount of tracer to take PET images of your heart during the activity. 
During the test, the PET scan technician will keep checking in to ask how you are feeling and to inform them if you have any discomfort or pain in your chest, arm or head, or feel lightheaded or dizzy. 
Once the test is over, your cardiologist will compare both images of your heart, active and resting. Upon review, your doctor will be able to discuss their results with you.

Cost of a Cardiac PET Scan

According to collected data, a cardiac PET scan performed in the United States can range from $1,250 to $9,225, averaging to about $5,750. The fair target price regardless of health insurance in the US is $2,000. However, the procedure prices are subject to change based on whether you get it from an outpatient or inpatient facility, with outpatient facilities being cheaper on average.

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Farah Jassawalla

Farah Jassawalla is a graduate of the Lahore School of Economics. She is also a writer, and a healthcare enthusiast, having closely observed case studies while working with Lahore's thriving general physicians at their clinics.