Nuclear Imaging

An Advanced Tool for Diagnosing Heart Disease

Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fortunately, with high-quality nuclear cardiac imaging available at The Heart Center of Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC), physicians can determine the severity of a patient’s cardiac disease and determine the best treatment options.

Coronary Artery Disease is characterized by the narrowing of arteries that supply blood to the heart due to plaque buildup.  Plaque, which is made of fatty deposits of cholesterol, grows within artery walls until blood flow is limited. This narrowing can be chronic, slowly limiting blood flow over time, or acute, from a rupture of plaque and formation of a clot.

People often learn they have coronary artery disease after experiencing a heart attack.  Risk factors for coronary artery disease include risk factors that can be changed, as well as those that can’t.

Steps an individual can take to reduce risk—or modifiable risk factors—include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Lowering high cholesterol and blood pressure
  • Exercising and staying active
  • Losing weight

Factors that can’t be changed include increasing age, male gender and heredity.

PET Imaging to Visualize Blood Flow

Cardiologists at The Heart Center of NGMC have access to numerous diagnostic tools, including myocardial positron emission tomography (PET).  This advanced nuclear cardiology imaging technique, uses radioactive tracers, called radionuclides, to produce high-quality pictures of the heart. It provides information about the presence, extent and severity of coronary artery disease.

During a PET scan, cardiologists and technicians measure blood flow to a person’s heart.  A tracer is injected into the blood, and special detectors pick up on the energy emitted by the tracer. This can help specialists determine the location and percentage of blockages due to plaque buildup, and in many cases, help a physician make an accurate diagnosis and form a treatment plan. 

Imaging can also reveal injured or dead tissue in the heart that is often the result of a heart attack. With PET scanning, a cardiologist can determine whether a patient is a candidate for percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) to open an artery, bypass surgery or other therapeutic options.

“Traditionally, we used single-photon emission computer tomography [SPECT], which uses gamma rays,” says Abhishek Gaur, MD, FACC, medical director of outpatient cardiac noninvasive testing at The Heart Center of NGMC.  “However, this image quality is not always ideal, particularly in patients who have a thick chest wall or deformity, are obese, or have a buildup of fluid between layers of tissue in the chest. With the sophisticated imaging of PET, we can measure the blood flow to a patient’s heart, as well as the contraction of muscles in the heart.”

PET scans offer several advantages over other types of imaging. Photos produced by PET imaging are nearly free of shadows, which means physicians can more accurately diagnose coronary artery disease. The PET equipment at The Heart Center of NGMC uses 3-D technology that provides for a much lower radiation exposure, an important safety concern for patients who may need repeated imaging. What’s more, PET imaging studies only take about 45 minutes compared to three- to four hours for SPECT imaging.

“By providing more accurate diagnoses, PET helps us avoid further unnecessary testing and treatment in those with normal tests,” Dr. Gaur says. “Those with abnormal PET imaging benefit from appropriate treatment with a high degree of certainty.”

The Heart Center at NGMC is among the few institutions in the region to use 3-D PET imaging. It is currently available through The Heart Center of NGMC at NGMC’s outpatient imaging department in Gainesville.

To request an appointment with a cardiologist at The Heart Center of NGMC, call 770-534-2020 or visit

Have Questions?

Call the Heart & Vascular Services department at 770-219-5416 or send us a contact form for more information.