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Heart disease is the leading killer of Americans today, and heart attack is the most visible sign of heart disease. Looking at specific age groups, cardiovascular disease is No. 1 for age 65 and older; second for ages 25-64; third for ages 0-14 and fifth for ages 15-24. Heart disease is also the number one killer of American women.

The American Heart Association says the body likely will send one or more of these warning signals of a heart attack: uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes; pain spreading to the shoulders, neck or arms; chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath.

A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is a unique noninvasive imaging technique that can produce three-dimensional images of the living heart, bran or other organs at work. PET scans are often used in the diagnosis and management of cancers, certain brain disorders and heart disease. Cardiac PET scanning is generally similar to other types of non-invasive stress tests to help determine the presence and extent of CAD.

It has two major advantages over the more common nuclear stress tests. First, the images are less likely to be distorted by parts of the patient's body (large breasts, obesity etc.), so abnormal results are more reliable. Second, it is an excellent tool for determining whether portions of the heart muscle are still viable (living and functioning). The scan can also measure how well those viable portions are functioning after a heart attack or other event in which there is a lack of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. PET scanning is not as readily available as more conventional nuclear imaging because of its greater cost and the need for a cyclotron device, which produces necessary isotopes on site.

How Does PET/CT make a Difference?

Positron emission tomography of the heart allows the study and quantification of various aspects of heart tissue function. Clinical studies show an important role for PET in diagnosing patients, describing disease and developing treatment strategy. Two areas of clinical application have emerged:

  • PET is the most accurate test to reveal coronary artery disease and impaired blood flow or rule out its presence.

  • PET is the gold standard to determine the viability of heart tissue for revascularization. PET can determine whether bypass surgery or transplant is the appropriate treatment.

Contact Us

For more information about the PET/CT scanner or to make an appointment, please call the Division of Nuclear Medicine at (410) 328-6891.