Background: The identification of ischemic but viable myocardium by thallium exercise scintigraphy is often imprecise, since many of the perfusion defects that develop in ischemic myocardium during exercise do not "fill in" on subsequent redistribution images. We hypothesized that a second injection of thallium given after the redistribution images were taken might improve the detection of ischemic but viable myocardium.
Methods: We studied 100 patients with coronary artery disease, using thallium exercise tomographic imaging and radionuclide angiography. Patients received 2 mCi of thallium intravenously during exercise, redistribution imaging was performed three to four hours later, and a second dose of 1 mCi of thallium was injected at rest immediately thereafter. The three sets of images (stress, redistribution, and reinjection) were then analyzed.
Results: Ninety-two of the 100 patients had exercise-induced perfusion defects. Of the 260 abnormal myocardial regions identified by stress imaging, 85 (33 percent) appeared to be irreversible on redistribution imaging three to four hours later. However, 42 of these apparently irreversible defects (49 percent) demonstrated improved or normal thallium uptake after the second injection of thallium, with an increase in mean regional uptake from 56 +/- 12 percent on redistribution studies to 64 +/- 10 percent on reinjection imaging (P less than 0.001). Twenty patients were restudied three to six months after coronary angioplasty. Of the 15 myocardial regions with defects on redistribution studies that were identified as viable by reinjection studies before angioplasty, 13 (87 percent) had normal thallium uptake and improved regional wall motion after angioplasty. In contrast, all eight regions with persistent defects on reinjection imaging before angioplasty had abnormal thallium uptake and abnormal regional wall motion after angioplasty.
Conclusions: These data indicate that the reinjection of thallium improves the detection of ischemic myocardium and that myocardial regions with improved thallium uptake on reinjection imaging represent viable but jeopardized myocardium.