What is a MUGA Scan?
The MUGA scan, or multiple-gated acquisition scan, is also known as a cardiac blood pool test. It is a completely non-invasive medical procedure designed to check the blood flow and function of the heart. During the procedure, your heart specialist will take video imagery of the lower chambers of the heart to determine whether everything works as it should. If any abnormalities arise in the chambers (ventricles) of the heart or in the movement of your blood, the doctor will know that something may be wrong.
Most patients get a MUGA scan before they receive chemotherapy, to determine whether they have a pre-existing heart condition. Doctors may also use the scan as a form of follow-up care to identify long-term side effects, known as late effects. Many such patients are cancer survivors who have had radiation therapy in their chest, spine, or upper abdomen, or have received a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. Other patients simply want to know more about the overall health of their heart.
Preparing for an MUGA Scan
When you first schedule your MUGA scan, your specialist will provide detailed instructions on how to prepare. They will typically tell you not to eat or drink for 4 to 6 hours before the test, avoid caffeine and tobacco for 24 hours before the procedure, and wear comfortable clothing as you go in.
If you are currently taking any prescribed or over-the-counter medications, you should notify your doctor or nurse beforehand. Ask whether or not you should take them the day of the test, as they may interfere with the scan’s results. Heart medications, including digoxin or nitrates, may have adverse effects on the test’s accuracy. Furthermore, it’s important to notify your doctor if you have undergone any recent nuclear tests, including bone or thyroid scans.
If you’re a woman who is pregnant or breastfeeding, the small amount of radiation used in the test may pass into your breast milk or fetus and cause harm to a developing child. Your doctor may recommend waiting until after the birth to perform a MUGA scan.
During the Procedure
At this point, you may feel slightly nervous and unsure about the scan process. You can throw all your worries out the door — this scan is quite simple and straightforward. You won’t endure any painful poking and prodding, and the doctor and technologist will walk you through the entire process. If you have any questions, you should feel free to ask them.
Upon arriving at the hospital for your procedure, you may be required to strip from the waist up. This includes taking off all jewelry and any other metal objects on your person, as they may interfere with the scanning equipment.
Once you are ready, a technician will place electrodes on your chest to monitor the electrical activity of your heart throughout the procedure. A small amount of radioactive material is then injected into a single vein in your arm. This material is known as a “tracer.” In some cases, the technician may draw a small amount of blood to mix with the tracer, which enables it to flow more easily through your veins. This tracer is similar to dye, but it binds to your blood cells and shows the technician exactly how the blood moves through your body. They can then see whether anything hinders its flow. You may feel a slight stinging sensation at first, but you won’t feel the actual tracer inside of you.
Once the tracer is moving through your bloodstream, a camera will snap pictures of how well your blood is moving through the body. These pictures are from various views, and each one is around five minutes in length. In between pictures, you may be asked to exercise on a treadmill or in place. This will help the doctor determine how well your heart responds to stress and strenuous activities. Furthermore, the technologist may ask you to take nitroglycerin, which helps open the blood vessels and may indicate how well your heart reacts to medications.
In total, the scan may take up to 3 hours to complete, depending on how many pictures your doctor chooses to take.
The Recovery Period
Once the MUGA scan is complete, you will be allowed to leave the examination room. The technician may ask that you wait in the hospital’s waiting room until the images have been developed and processed. If the pictures appear blurry or distorted, they may need you to start the procedure over again.
You can expect to return to everyday activities – including driving and exercise – immediately following the scan. You should drink plenty of fluids and use the bathroom often within the next two days to ensure that the tracer leaves your body.
The entire point of an MUGA scan is to determine the amount of blood being pumped from your ventricles and through your heart. A test result of 50% or higher is completely normal and means your heart is working efficiently.
On the other hand, an abnormal result (under 50%) may indicate an artery blockage, poor pumping function, heart valve disease, or another heart-related disorder or condition. This generally rules out conventional chemotherapy. If you have cancer, your doctor may choose to switch treatments or schedule a different form of chemotherapy.
Are There Side Effects?
Before their exam, most patients want to know about any adverse side effects they may experience. You’ll be happy to know that a MUGA scan has no significant side effects. The amount of carrier drug the technologist administers during the procedure is quite minimal; you won’t experience any sickness, pain, or other symptoms. In fact, the radioactive tracer injected into the vein is similar to the dose you would normally receive from a CT scan.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
An informed patient is a calm patient. You don’t want to distract yourself with needless concerns. Before the procedure, you may schedule a consultation visit with your heart specialist. During this appointment, you can ask any questions that may be on your mind. Here are a few examples:
- Who is performing the scan?
- Why is this procedure recommended?
- How long does it take?
- What happens during the procedure?
- What are the risks and benefits involved with a MUGA scan?
- Who can I speak with about the procedure?
- When will I receive the results of the test?
- If my results are abnormal, what happens next?
Your doctor should be able to easily answer questions like these. You should never be afraid to ask a question regarding any procedure you’re scheduled to undergo. Doctors want you to be informed and comfortable.
If you’re currently experiencing heart-related troubles and would like to speak with a specialist, contact Brookhaven Heart by calling 631-654-3278. We’ll begin by scheduling a consultation visit and determining the best course of action. Furthermore, we’ll offer you the opportunity to ask any questions you may have, and we’ll address any concerns before your scan.