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Types of Nuclear Heart Scans

The two main types of nuclear heart scans are single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and cardiac positron emission tomography (PET).

Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography

Doctors use SPECT to help diagnose coronary heart disease (CHD). Combining SPECT with a stress test can show problems with blood flow to the heart. Sometimes doctors can detect these problems only when the heart is working hard and beating fast.

Doctors also use SPECT to look for areas of damaged or dead heart muscle tissue. These areas might be the result of a previous heart attack or other cause.

SPECT also can show how well the heart's lower left chamber (left ventricle) pumps blood to the body. Weak pumping ability might be the result of a heart attack, heart failure, and other causes.

Tracers commonly used during SPECT include thallium-201, technetium-99m sestamibi (Cardiolite®), and technetium-99m tetrofosmin (Myoview™).

Positron Emission Tomography

Doctors can use PET for the same purposes as SPECT—to diagnose CHD, check for damaged or dead heart muscle tissue, and check the heart's pumping strength.

Compared with SPECT, PET takes a clearer picture through thick layers of tissue (such as abdominal or breast tissue). PET also is better at showing whether CHD is affecting more than one of your heart's blood vessels.

Right now, however, there's no clear advantage of using one scan over the other in all situations. Research into advances in both SPECT and PET is ongoing.

PET uses different tracers than SPECT.

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Nuclear Heart Scan Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Nuclear Heart Scan, visit

March 09, 2012 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.