Nuclear Stress Testing

We have all likely heard of a stress test – it is a staple for stratifying cardiovascular risk and a base level diagnostic tool as patients get older. However, when we need to use advanced diagnostic modalities to understand de novo or worsening chest pain, whether a particular treatment is working or following up on recovery after a heart attack, we may employ a nuclear stress test. In addition to the heartbeat and blood pressure measurements of a regular stress test, we can also visualize blood flow to the heart.

How a Nuclear Stress Test Works

Much like it sounds, we use an injectable radioactive tracer to visualize blood flow to the heart. This is inserted via IV in the patient’s arm. Patients will wait approximately half an hour to 45 minutes until the tracer has reached the heart. A nuclear camera is then used to take pictures of blood flow prior to activity. We then administer the stress on the heart via treadmill-based exercise or by using a medication that mimics the effects of stress on the heart. This stress will be increased progressively. Once the patient has reached their limit, we inject a second radioactive tracer to see how the heart reacts after exercise. Typically, patients have no reaction or adverse effects from the radioactive tracer and this form of stress testing is both accurate and safe.

What You Need To Do

Preparation for a nuclear stress test is relatively straightforward and you will receive a pre-procedure packet from our office.

The Results of a Nuclear Stress Test

If your results come back normal, we can be relatively confident that there are no imminent cardiovascular issues to address. However, abnormal results may require additional testing including cardiac catheterization to visualize any potential arterial blockages.