Nuclear Cardiology Imaging


About Nuclear Cardiology Imaging at Aurora

Nuclear imaging is a safe, noninvasive diagnostic procedure that uses small amounts of radioactive material to create images of your body’s internal organs and structures. When nuclear imaging is used to diagnose heart disease, it’s called cardiac imaging or nuclear heart scanning.


There are many reasons your doctor may recommend nuclear cardiology imaging. These types of tests are:

  • Nonsurgical: Except for the IV we use to inject the radioactive material into your body, cardiac nuclear imaging is noninvasive. You won’t need surgery or a catheter.
  • Like an inside-out X-ray: Traditional X-rays send radiation through your body. Nuclear imaging records radiation emitted from tracers inside your body. This type of imaging gives your doctors a better view of your organs and bodily functions.
  • An advanced diagnostic tool: Nuclear cardiology imaging helps your doctors see images of your heart’s physical structure, how your heart is functioning and how well blood flows to your heart muscle.
  • Safe: The small amount of radioactive material injected into your body does not harm your body or organs.

What Nuclear Imaging Diagnoses

Nuclear cardiology imaging tests provide information that helps your doctor:

  • Determine whether your heart-related symptoms are due to coronary artery disease
  • Identify if you are at risk for a heart attack and determine if angioplasty or coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery would be good options for you
  • Assess your condition after you’ve had coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery or a cardiac catheterization procedure
  • Monitor blood flow to the heart and help detect atherosclerosis or coronary artery disease
  • Evaluate how well your heart is pumping, which could indicate cardiomyopathy, heart injury or an infection
  • Monitor the effects on your heart of chemotherapy or other medications
  • Determine the size and location of a heart attack

World-Class Care

Aurora’s Dedicated Nuclear Cardiology Imaging Services

Because we have 15 hospitals and 155 clinics throughout eastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois, you can find a convenient Aurora nuclear cardiology imaging location. If you need more specialized tests, we may refer you to our main Cardiovascular Imaging Center at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center.

When you choose Aurora for your heart/vascular imaging tests, you can expect:

  • Safety-focused technicians: Our goal is always to use the least invasive diagnostic imaging tools and expose you to the smallest amount of radiation possible.
  • A reputation for excellence: Our imaging program is part of Aurora’s larger Heart & Vascular Institute. Our cardiovascular programs are widely recognized as among the best in Wisconsin and the country.
  • High-tech excellence: In many cases, Aurora helped develop the cutting-edge equipment that is now used at the world’s top heart and vascular hospitals (including ours). You benefit from our innovation.
  • Accredited excellence: The prestigious Intersocietal Accreditation Commission (IAC) has accredited our nuclear imaging programs. Nationally recognized experts affirm that we provide top-quality care.

Services We Offer

Nuclear Cardiology Imaging Services at Aurora

We offer many types of cardiac imaging, including:

  • Equilibrium Radionuclide Angiogram (ERNA): Doctors use this test to see how well the lower chambers of your heart (ventricles) are pumping. It is sometimes called a multigated acquisition (MUGA) scan or blood-pool scan. Learn more about MUGA scans [PDF, 54 KB].
  • Nuclear exercise stress test: You may also hear this test called a myocardial perfusion stress test. It helps doctors see if your heart gets enough blood while you exercise. Technicians first create images of your blood flow to your heart while you rest, then again as you exercise on a treadmill or stationary bike. Your doctor compares the two test results. Learn more about stress tests.
  • Pharmacological nuclear stress test: This test is similar to the nuclear exercise stress test. However, your doctor will give you medication instead of having you exercise.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: This test is somewhat similar to the pharmacological nuclear stress test, but uses a different imaging device and different radioactive material. It can also highlight:

Learn more about PET scans.

What to Expect

What Happens During Nuclear Cardiology Imaging Tests

It may reassure you to know that despite the “nuclear” term, this type of imaging is considered very safe. The amount of radiation you are exposed to during these tests is similar to that of a CT scan. (However, cardiac imaging is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.)

Here’s what you can expect during a nuclear imaging test:

  1. A technician will inject a safe, radioactive substance called a tracer into your bloodstream through a vein.
  2. The tracer travels to your heart, where it releases energy known as gamma rays (similar to X-rays).
  3. Special gamma cameras outside your body detect the gamma rays and use them to help us create pictures of your heart and related functions.
  4. During your tests, your doctor will likely monitor your heart rate and blood pressure.
  5. Your doctor will monitor your heart’s electrical activity with an electrocardiogram (EKG).

After Your Test

We will send your test results to your doctor. He/she will share these findings with you as soon as possible.

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