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What is myocardial perfusion imaging?

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Myocardial perfusion imaging is a noninvasive test that reveals the ability of blood to perfuse or flow through the heart, according to the American Heart Association. The imaging reveals the heart's pumping effectiveness and whether there are areas of the heart where blood flow is insufficient. Another name for the imaging is the nuclear stress test. Positron emission tomography and single photon emission computed tomography are the two myocardial perfusion imaging techniques.

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To perform the test, doctors administer tracers, small amounts of a radioactive substance, to their patients, states the American Heart Association. The tracers mix with the blood flowing through the heart as the patient exercises on a treadmill or rests. Using a special gamma camera, doctors take pictures of the blood flow through the heart for up to 30 minutes. The scans provide images of all angles of the entire heart. The entire test takes about three to four hours.

Doctors use myocardial perfusion imaging to determine whether blocked or narrow heart arteries are causing reduced blood flow to the heart when patients complain of chest discomfort, explains the American Heart Association. Although the imaging does not show heart arteries, it enables doctors to determine whether blockages exist, the number of blockages and whether or not patients have suffered heart attacks in the past.

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