PET stands for Positron Emission Tomography. That fact in itself is amazing, because it means that through research, man has predicted the existence of, discovered and is now using anti-matter (a positron is the anti matter equivalent of an electron).

A PET scan uses a small dosage of a chemical called radionuclide combined with sugar. This combination is injected into the patient. The radionuclide emits positrons. A PET scanner will rotate around a patient’s head to detect the positron emissions given off by the radionuclide. Because malignant tumors are growing at such a fast rate compared to healthy tissue, the tumor cells will use up more of the sugar which has the radionuclide attached to it. The computer then uses the measurements of glucose used to produce a picture which is color-coded.

Heart Disease: How Can a PET Make a Difference?

PET scans of the heart allow the study and qualification of various aspects of heart tissue function. Clinical studies show an important role for PET in diagnosing patients, describing disease, and developing the 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. PET provides a way to assess the severity of heart disease and measure its impact on heart function.

The heart has a unique way of providing increased blood flow that is needed during a period of exercise or stress. A network of collapsed arteries or veins, called flow reserve, is ready to be used if the heart needs it. The heart also has the ability to develop collateral vessels to bring blood to heart tissues that may need more.

When narrowing of the vessels occur with coronary heart disease, some of these collapsed vessels open, so the heart can maintain optimal flow.

A portion of the flow that should be reserved for stress or exercise is needed for resting function. In fact, blood flow to the heart tissue at rest is not decreased (so that symptom may not be detected) until the blockage is extensive, which may be when all the collapsed vessels in the area are fully in use to address the needs of the heart at rest. Further narrowing or blockage prevents the heart muscle from getting the blood it needs, even at rest.

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