A nuclear stress test is a test that uses radioactive dye and an imaging machine to show how well blood is flowing to and from the heart muscle. The test creates a series of images showing the flow of blood to the heart both at rest and during activity, and these images can show areas with poor blood flow, blockages or any damage to your heart. A nuclear stress test is one of many kinds of stress tests that can be performed. The heart health experts at AMS Cardiology are here to tell you how it can help determine your risk of any cardiac conditions.
Why a Nuclear Test is Performed
If you’ve been diagnosed with a heart condition like coronary artery disease, your doctor may suggest a nuclear stress test to help with your treatment. A nuclear stress test can indicate if your current treatment has been working and, if not, help establish a better treatment plan.
If you’ve been experiencing shortness of breath, tightness, pressure or chest pain—and a routine stress test couldn’t pinpoint the cause—your doctor may suggest a nuclear stress test. The nuclear stress test can show doctors if you’re at risk for developing a heart condition, as well as the seriousness of the risk.
How to Prepare for Your Nuclear Stress Test
In the event that your doctor requests a nuclear stress test you will then be given specific instructions on how to best prepare for your test. You may be asked to not eat or drink for a period of time before your test is performed. In most cases, smoking and caffeine should also be avoided. Certain medications can also interfere with your stress test, so make sure your doctor is aware of every prescription medication you take. If you have asthma and use an inhaler, bring that to the test, and wear clothing and shoes that are comfortable as you will be engaging in light exercise.
What to Expect: Before, During and After
Most nuclear stress tests are performed in combination with an exercise stress test, in which case you may be asked to walk on a treadmill. If you aren’t able to exercise, a drug that mimics exercise will be intravenously administered to you. A nuclear stress test usually takes about two hours, but can be longer due to the radioactive dyes and imagining machines used.
Before the Test
Your doctor will first ask you some questions, such as how often you exercise and the degree to which you assert yourself during exercise. This will help determine the appropriate amount of exercise for you to engage in during the test. Your doctor will also listen to your heart and lungs before the test to make sure that there are no abnormalities.
During the Test
During your stress test, an IV will be inserted into your arm and you will be injected with the radioactive material. You will then lie down and wait for your heart cells to absorb the dye, usually taking around 20 to 40 minutes. A camera will scan your heart at this time and create pictures showing how the dye has traveled through your blood and into your heart. This is during your rest period.
For the activity test, a nurse will attach electrodes to your chest, arms and legs. The electrodes are connected to an electrocardiogram machine which will record the electrical signals that trigger your heartbeats. You will then be asked to engage in some light exercise, normally performed on a treadmill, and exercise until your heart rate has reached a set target level or you’re experiencing complications. When your heart rate peaks, another IV of dye will be injected and a second set of images will be made showing any areas of complications.
After the Test
Your doctor will watch for any abnormalities in your breathing or heart rate and then assess your test results with you. Make sure to drink plenty of water to flush the dye out of your system.
Possible Risks and Side Effects
As with any medical procedure, a nuclear stress test has certain risks and side-effects, and although it’s generally a safe test, the following are some common issues that individuals may experience:
- Allergic reactions: An allergic reaction can happen if the patient is allergic to the radioactive dye.
- Low blood pressure: Patients can see a dip in blood pressure during or after exercise.
- Pains: While rare, certain individuals can feel tightness or pressure in their chest. Other symptoms, such as nausea, shakiness, headaches and dizziness, can occur.
At AMS, we’re here for all your heart health needs! With our cutting-edge technology and state-of-the-art test procedures, we make it our mission to bring the latest cardiovascular care to treat our patients. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.