The MUGA scan

What it is, how it is used

Doctor talking to patient.

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The multiple gated acquisition scan (MUGA scan), also called radionuclide ventriculography (RVG) or radionuclide angiography (RNA), is a noninvasive test used to evaluate cardiac function. The MUGA scan produces a computerized image of the beating heart, and from this image several important features can be determined about the health of the left and right ventricles (the heart’s major pumping chambers). The MUGA scan is particularly accurate at giving a reading of the overall pumping ability of the heart.

How Is the MUGA Scan Done?

If you are having a MUGA scan, a tiny amount of Technetium 99 (a radioactive substance) is injected into your bloodstream. The Technetium 99 attaches to your red blood cells, and circulates within your bloodstream. You will then be placed under a special camera (a gamma camera), which is able to detect the low-level radiation being given off by the Technetium-labelled red cells. Because the red blood cells fill cardiac chambers, the the gamma camera is able to produce what is essentially a movie of the beating heart. This digital “movie” can be analyzed with various computer algorithms, which can determine a lot of useful information about the overall health of your heart.

What Can Be Learned From the MUGA Scan?

Several important features of cardiac function can be measured from the MUGA scan. If a person has had a heart attack the MUGA scan can tell which portion of the heart muscle is functioning abnormally. By localizing areas of heart muscle damage, the MUGA scan gives the doctor important clues about which coronary arteries are likely to be blocked or partially blocked by atherosclerosis

The MUGA scan is also quite good at measuring the overall function of the heart. This is particularly important if any degree of dilated cardiomyopathy is present. The MUGA scan gives an accurate and reproducible means of measuring and monitoring the “ejection fraction” of the cardiac ventricles. The left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF) is an excellent measure of overall cardiac function, and is very useful in helping doctors assess and treat people who have heart failure.

When Is the MUGA Scan More Useful Than Other Heart Tests?

There are two general advantages of the MUGA scan over other techniques (such as the echocardiogram) for assessing cardiac function.

First, the LVEF obtained with a MUGA scan is generally quite accurate, and is regarded as being more accurate than LVEF measurements obtained by other kinds of cardiac tests, such as echocardiography.

Second, the LVEF measured by a MUGA scan ejection fraction is highly reproducible. This means that if subsequent MUGA scans measure a difference in the LVEF, that difference is likely to reflect an actual change in the condition of the heart (and is not an artifact of an inaccurate measurement). With other tests, the variability in repeated LVEF measurements tends to be greater.

These two features make the MUGA scan particularly useful for detecting subtle changes in a person’s cardiac function over time.

The MUGA scan is most often used today to monitor a person’s heart function over time when they are receiving chemotherapy that might cause cardiac toxicity.

A common example of when repeated MUGA scans are useful would be in assessing an individual’s cardiac function during a course of chemotherapy for cancer. Some chemotherapeutic agents (Adriamycin being the most notable) can be quite toxic to the heart muscle.

The MUGA scan is accurate and reproducible enough to detect subtle, early changes in cardiac function that might easily be missed by other techniques. By measuring the LVEF with periodic MUGA scans, oncologists can determine whether it is safe to continue with the chemotherapy, or whether certain medications need to be stopped.

Limitations of the MUGA Scan

As with any diagnostic test used in medicine, there are some drawbacks to the MUGA scan.

Because the MUGA scan requires the use of a radioactive substance, the person having this scan is exposed to a small amount of radiation.

Further, the accuracy of the LVEF obtained with a MUGA scan tends to be diminished in patients with irregular heart rhythms, especially atrial fibrillation.

Also, the MUGA scan usually does not give much information about the function of the heart valves, or whether there is ventricular hypertrophy. The echocardiogram, in contrast, is excellent for obtaining information like this. So, for many people with suspected heart problems, the MUGA scan must be used in combination with other cardiac tests to obtain as full a picture as possible of the person’s overall cardiac condition.

A Word From Verywell

The main advantage of a MUGA scan is that it usually gives an accurate and reproducible measurement of the left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF). This test is therefore most useful when it is important to have an accurate measurement of the LVEF, or to closely follow a person’s LVEF over time — in particular, in people who are receiving chemotherapy that has the potential of affecting cardiac function.

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