In 2009, I underwent chemo to try and beat down my immune system so I might get into remission. I had four doses of mitoxantrone, which is the chemo they use to treat MS. (Which we now know I actually don’t have. I have neuromyelitis optica (NMO) which I’ve explained here. )
Mitoxantrone is a pretty heavy duty. There’s a lifetime cap of 12 treatments because it has the potential to damage the heart muscle, even long after treatment has stopped. MS specialists will use chemo as a last resort when other treatment options have failed. If your doctor recommends chemo to treat MS, it’s because they believe the benefits (the potential to get MS into remission) outweigh the risks.
Each year since I had chemo, I have had a MUGA scan. (Muga stands for “multigated acquisition”.) The scan creates video images of the ventricles (lower chambers of the heart that hold blood) to check whether they are pumping blood properly. It shows any abnormalities in the size of the ventricles and in the movement of the blood through the heart.
When I arrive at the hospital, I go to nuclear medicine to check in. Once they are ready for me, they call me into an exam area where I sit on a bed while one of the techs, dressed in a very Game of Thrones lead tunic draws some blood. They label my blood and send it off to the lab for about half and hour where they spin my blood with some isotopes. Isotopes are a radioactive particle that when spun with blood, sticks to the red blood cells.
Once the treated blood is ready, they re-inject it back into my arm. I then go into the room where the imaging machine is and lie down on the table. The tech places stickers called electrodes on my chest to monitor my heart’s electrical activity during the test. I have to lie very still with my arms above my head while the special camera uses gamma rays to track the isotopes.
If you look at the photo of the imaging machine, you will see I’ve marked the cameras. Unlike an MRI, you are not actually inside the machine-it’s more like an X-ray where you’re lying underneath the camera 1 and beside camera 2. (Good news for anyone who is claustrophobic!) The isotopes allow the camera to take pictures to see how well my heart is pumping blood. Images are taken from a variety of angles and the whole process lasts about half an hour.
Aside from two needle sticks (one to draw the blood and one to re-inject the isotope treated blood) it’s painless. The techs at the hospital where I have my annual MUGA are super nice. They are always friendly and more than happy to explain the procedure, to answer questions and when I ask, to let me see the images of my heart after the test. (I always ask to see-how often do you get to look at your own heart?!)
When I’m about to leave, they give me a special card to carry with me in case I decide to leave Canada in the next 5 days. If you try and cross the border after a MUGA scan, you will trigger security sensors that measure for radioactivity. Having a card in your pocket that explains you’ve had a nuclear test saves a giant headache!
I wanted to share what this test is like in case any of you reading this ever have to go for one. There’s really nothing to be afraid of and I actually look forward to having my yearly MUGA. I like to know my heart is doing okay!Tags: chemo, heart, MS, MUGA, tests