Myocardial perfusion is an imaging test. It’s also called a nuclear stress test. It is done to show how well blood flows through the heart muscle. It also shows how well the heart muscle is pumping. For example, after a heart attack, it may be done to find areas of damaged heart muscle. This test may be done during rest and while you exercise.

A myocardial perfusion scan uses a tiny amount of a radioactive substance, called a radioactive tracer. The tracer travels through the bloodstream and is absorbed by the healthy heart muscle. On the scan, the areas where tracer has been absorbed look different from the areas that do not absorb it. Areas that are damaged or don’t have good blood flow do not absorb the tracer. The damaged areas may be called “cold spots” or “defects.”

A stress myocardial perfusion scan assesses blood flow to the heart muscle when it is stressed. The heart is usually “stressed” from exercise. But, if you are unable to exercise, the heart can be stressed by taking a certain medicine that increases your heart rate or dilate blood vessels as would occur during exercise.

After the radioactive tracer is injected, a special type of camera is used that can detect the radioactive energy from outside the body. The camera takes images of the heart during stress and again later at rest. The two sets of images are compared.