Many heart conditions are related to the presence of atherosclerosis in the heart arteries (also called coronary artery disease or CAD). In CAD—a leading cause of death in America today—plaque builds up on the walls of arteries in the heart, narrowing the vessels and making it harder for blood to flow through.
Plaque on the inner surface of the coronary artery can erode or rupture causing a blood clot to form, which can stop the blood flow, causing heart muscle damage we call a heart attack.
The presence of plaque in arteries of the brain can lead to stroke and in arteries of the legs to claudication or pain in the legs with exertion.
Heart disease also includes heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias), valve problems, infections, weakening of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy), and defects that are present at birth (congenital). In heart failure, sometimes called congestive heart failure, the heart does not pump blood as well as it should and the body's need for blood and oxygen is not met.
Molecular Imaging and Heart Disease
Unlike conventional imaging studies that produce primarily structural pictures, nuclear medicine and molecular imaging visualize how the body is functioning and what’s happening at the cellular and molecular levels. Cardiovascular nuclear and molecular diagnostic imaging studies enable physicians to assess the function and physiological processes of the heart, providing extremely useful information for the diagnosis, risk assessment and management of heart disease patients.
Cardiovascular nuclear medicine and molecular imaging studies are able to identify biochemical and cellular changes that occur in the earliest, most treatable stages of heart disease. These early changes provide diagnostic clues and guidance for lifestyle, medical and revascularization interventions to optimize patient outcomes.
Like the heart itself, heart disease is complex and specific to each individual. Information provided by cardiac nuclear and molecular imaging is increasingly allowing physicians to personalize treatment.
In the research laboratory, nuclear medicine and molecular imaging are also improving our understanding of cardiovascular disease and facilitating the development of new and more effective medications.