Nuclear stress test

Compared with an exercise stress test, a nuclear stress test can help better determine your risk of a heart attack or other cardiac event if your doctor knows or suspects that you have coronary artery disease.

A nuclear stress test uses radioactive dye and an imaging machine to create pictures showing the blood flow to your heart. The test measures blood flow while you are at rest and are exerting yourself, showing areas with reduced blood flow or damage in your heart.

The test usually involves injecting radioactive dye, then taking two sets of images of your heart — one while you’re at rest and another after exertion.

nuclear stress test

Nuclear stress test Overview

This can take 3.5 to 4 hours.  There are periods of time (~30-45 minutes) where you will be sent to eat, read or watch TV during the study.

You will be asked to walk on a treadmill to stress the heart.  If you are unable to walk, we may administer a medication to simulate exercise.  Or we may ask you to march in place or swing your legs to help distribute the medication.

During exercise we will administer nuclear material through an IV which travels in the blood.  This highlights blood flow to the arteries in the heart.

The amount of radiation exposure from the study is equivalent to spending a couple of hours in the sun or one CT scan.  The radiation lasts only hours in the body before disappearing.

Nuclear stress test procedure

Nuclear heart scans have few risks. The amount of radiation in this test is small. In rare instances, some people have a treatable allergic reaction to the tracer. If you have coronary heart disease, you may have chest pain during the stress test.  Medicine can help relieve your chest pain. Talk to the doctor, and the technicians performing the test, about whether you are or could be pregnant.  If the test is not urgent, they may have you wait to do the test until after your pregnancy. Let your doctor know if you are breastfeeding because radiation can pass into your breast milk.  If the test is urgent, you may want to pump and save enough breast milk for one to two days after your test.

You may be asked not to eat, drink or smoke for a period of time before a nuclear stress test.  You may need to avoid caffeine the day before and the day of the test.

Ask your doctor if it’s safe for you to continue taking all of your prescription medication. These might interfere with certain stress tests.

If you use an inhaler for asthma or other breathing problems, bring it to the test. Make sure your doctor and the health care team member monitoring your stress test know that you use an inhaler.