Nuclear Stress Test What Is It

Nuclear Stress TestA nuclear stress test is a test that is used to assess blood flow to heart muscle and heart function. It is used to detect and evaluate problems relating to the heart. Nuclear stress tests are normally conducted using a treadmill or stationary bicycle. Images of the heart are taken during exercise and at rest, with the injection of radioactive substances such as thallium or sestamibi to highlight regions of the heart. A nuclear stress test is designed to show how much blood flows to the heart at rest and during exercise. It reveals which regions of the heart are healthy and which parts are damaged, and provides an accurate picture of the shape and size of the heart.


The test involves taking images of the heart during exercise and at rest. Because this test is often combined with an exercise test, your heart will also be monitored by an electrocardiogram (ECG), which involves the placement of electrodes on your chest which are attached to wires to a machine. You will have an intravenous (IV) line to inject the radioactive substances at the appropriate times. You will be asked to walk on the treadmill for about 10 minutes.

A small amount of a radioactive substance, thallium or sestamibi, is injected into the bloodstream after a maximum level of exercise is reached on the treadmill or bicycle. The radioactive substance is absorbed by the heart and is used to highlight the heart region in the images. A special camera captures images that show the blood flow to the heart. After 2 to 3 hours of rest, another injection is administered and a second set of images is taken. Along with images being taken, there is EKG monitoring of the heart. In individuals who are unable to undertake physical activity, a medication can be administered to increases levels of blood flow in order to simulate exercise.


You should wear loose fitting clothing that gives easy access to the chest, and comfortable walking shoes with nonskid soles. You should not to eat or drink anything 2 to 3 hours before the test. After the exercise part of the test, you have 3 to 4 hours before the second part of the test which is when you get a second injection and images are taken while at rest. On the test day, you should not consume anything that contains caffeine, or use body lotions or oils as this may interfere with the test.


This test provides information about heart structure and function. There are a number of reasons why a nuclear stress test might be conducted. They might be performed alone or as part of a series of tests. They can help to assess features such as blood flow, arterial blockage and the function of damaged areas. A nuclear stress test can also be used to help detect or evaluate chest pain, heart attack prognosis, safe levels for exercise and past cardiac operations. It can help with the diagnosis of coronary heart disease, and working out the best treatments.


Your nuclear stress test will be reviewed and evaluated by a cardiologist, and sent to your physician. Normal results show expected normal levels of blood flow during exercise and while at rest. Abnormal blood flow detected during exercise, at rest, or both might indicate blockage of one or more of the arteries supplying the heart, the coronary arteries.

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