By Mary Robb Jackson

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A cardiac test successfully used in Europe for years and in the United States for the past five years is now available at Allegheny General Hospital.

Shortness of breath brought 82-year-old Tom Sweeney, of New Sewickley Township, to the Allegheny General Hospital.

The new diagnostic tool is a combination of a PET scan and CT scan that provides incredible heart images and an alternative to a regular stress test.

“I am totally amazed by the quality of the pictures,” says Dr. Indu Poorima.

Non-invasive and painless, fusing the two tests allows cardiologists to get a better view of blood flow to the heart, the health of the heart muscle and any blockages of the arteries. It helps identify which patients are clearly at risk for a heart attack.

But it is more helpful for some patients who have too much extraneous tissue in front of the heart.

“For patients who are overweight, women especially with large breasts,” Dr. Poorima explained.

Patients being evaluated before gastric bypass surgery are also good candidates. The patient first has a CT scan, then the PET scan.

A radioactive tracer is given by IV. Medication simulating a typical treadmill stress test is given and pictures are taken before and after looking for blockages. Exposure to radiation is limited.

“It’s about half of what they would get from a traditional nuclear stress test, so I think that is a significant advantage,” Dr. Poorima said.

It’s not only accurate – it’s fast.

“The whole test is completed is about 20 to 30 minutes from start to finish,” Dr. Poorima said.

Tom’s results will be ready by Monday evening. He’s had previous stress tests and CT scans. They were normal. He hopes the new test will explain his symptoms.

With this test there are fewer borderline results, reducing the need for additional testing. It also makes it clear who need the more invasive heart catheterization or other procedures, like bypass surgery or transplantation.

More From CBS Pittsburgh

Get The All New CBS Local App
KDKA Weather App

Watch & Listen LIVE