Skip to content

Heart Disease Health Center

Font Size

Cardiac Perfusion Scan

How It Feels

The cardiac scanning test itself is painless.

  • You may feel a brief stinging or burning sensation when the IV is inserted into your vein.
  • You may be uncomfortable lying still for an extended period of time on the table during the scans.
  • If medicine to stress your heart is used, you may have symptoms of mild nausea, headache, dizziness, flushing, or chest pain. These symptoms only last a few minutes.
  • If you are asked to exercise, you may have chest pain, breathlessness, lightheadedness, aching in your leg muscles, and fatigue. Report these to the technician. If the symptoms are severe, the exercise part of the test may be stopped.
  • You will be asked to remain very still during each scan, which takes about 5 to 10 minutes. The camera will move to take more pictures at different angles. Several scans will be taken.


Cardiac perfusion scans are usually safe. There is always a slight chance of damage to cells or tissue from radiation, including the low levels of radiation used for this test. But the chance of damage from the radiation is usually very low compared with the benefits of the test.

The risk of exercise depends on the condition of your heart and your general level of health. The risks include:

  • Fainting.
  • Chest pain.
  • An irregular heartbeat.
  • Heart attack. There is a slight risk that death may result if a heart attack occurs during the test.

After the test

Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if you develop:

  • Chest pain or pressure.
  • Trouble breathing.


Test results are usually available within 1 to 3 days.

A cardiac perfusion scan measures the amount of blood in your heart muscle at rest and during exercise.

Results are:1

  • Normal if radioactive tracer is evenly distributed throughout your heart muscle.
  • Abnormal if areas of abnormal tracer absorption are present. This means some areas of heart muscle are not getting enough blood (ischemia). This may mean that the heart has been damaged or that coronary artery disease is present.

What Affects the Test

Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:

  • A recent, serious heart attack.
  • Inflammation of the heart, such as myocarditis or sarcoidosis.
  • Bruising of the heart muscle (cardiac contusion).
  • Weakening of the heart muscle.
  • Stiffening of the heart muscle (myocardial fibrosis).
  • A severely narrowed heart valve.
  • Implanted cardiac devices, such as a pacemaker.
  • A condition that makes it difficult to exercise, such as lung disease, arthritis, or a neuromuscular problem.
  • Some medicines, such as dipyridamole (Persantine) and pentoxifylline (Trental).
  • Severe electrolyte imbalances (especially calcium, potassium, sodium, or magnesium).
  • Pregnancy or breast-feeding (except in an emergency).

Test results may be difficult to interpret in scans done on women with large breasts.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

Today on WebMD

x-ray of human heart
A visual guide.
atrial fibrillation
Symptoms and causes.
heart rate graph
10 things to never do.
Compressed heart
empty football helmet
red wine
eating blueberries
Simple Steps to Lower Cholesterol
Inside A Heart Attack
Omega 3 Sources
Salt Shockers
lowering blood pressure