Heart - Cardiology & Cardiovascular Surgery

Cardiac PET CT Imaging

Mount Sinai Heart offers the most advanced heart imaging techniques for diagnostics. Cardiac positron emission tomography (PET) may be combined with computed tomography (CT) to provide precise information about the nature of heart disease and how your heart functions. Cardiac PET CT testing is a noninvasive, painless test that uses a small amount of a radioactive tracer combined with medication that opens your blood vessels, simulating the effects of exercise on your cardiovascular system. There are three types of cardiac PET CT tests:

  • Cardiac PET stress test, also known as PET myocardial perfusion imaging test, is used to check the blood flow to your heart
  • Cardiac PET viability test measures whether your heart muscles have experienced damage related to reduced blood supply from blockages in arteries feeding the heart
  • Cardiac PET test for inflammation and infection detects inflammation of the heart muscle or infection in and around the heart, or surrounding any devices or valves placed in the heart

Cardiac PET CT offers superior image quality and is an excellent method to evaluate cardiac blood flow or perfusion.  A radioactive molecule called rubidium is used, and Mount Sinai Morningside is one of the few facilities in the New York area that has a rubidium generator onsite. Because of its short half-life, it results in lower radiation exposure to patients.

A special camera, called a PET scanner, detects the radiation released by the tracer and creates computer images of your heart. The cardiac PET CT scan images the amount of blood flow reaching the heart muscle during rest and exercise and identifies any damage to the heart.

If you are having a scan, please read the detailed instructions on how to prepare for a cardiac PET CT scan. If you are having a PET CT test for inflammation or infection due to sarcoidosis, please download the instructions.

Advantages of a Cardiac PET CT

A cardiac PET CT is typically done to determine the cause of unexplained chest pain or to determine the location and amount of damage after a heart attack. Other reasons for a PET CT study include arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat, tightness in your chest, difficulty breathing, weakness and fatigue, profuse sweating, or passing out from an unknown cause.

The main advantages of a cardiac PET stress test over other forms of stress tests are:

  • High degree of accuracy among all noninvasive studies for detecting major blockages
  • Extremely low and safe dose of radiation—one study is roughly equal to the background annual radiation we receive from our surroundings
  • The ability to quantify the amount of blood flow reaching your heart muscle. This can help us detect disease in the small vessels of the heart, which are too small to be seen by the naked eye on an angiogram or CT scan by itself
  • Streamlined exam process—the entire test is complete in about 30 minutes
  • Availability of coronary artery calcium score to detect atherosclerosis, which is another measure of your cardiac health

The cardiac PET stress test is particularly helpful for patients: 

  • Who have a high body mass index, or BMI 
  • Who have a large amount of breast/chest wall tissue, breast implants, or accumulation of fluid in the lungs or around the heart
  • Who have reduced blood flow to the heart, or ischemic nonobstructive coronary artery disease (INOCA)
  • Who have had prior stent placement, bypass surgery or significant coronary disease, and are presenting with new symptoms
  • Who have inconsistent, inconclusive, or differing results of other imaging tests and/or angiograms

Most people can have a PET scan. However, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and people with recent acute medical conditions usually should avoid a cardiac PET/CT scan. There are no side effects from the radioactive tracer. It does not contain iodine and will not harm your kidneys. Cardiac PET CT stress testing is very safe and can help your cardiologist accurately diagnosis heart disease. Complications are rare.