Key Points about a Nuclear Cardiac Stress Test

  • A nuclear cardiac stress test determines whether there is a enough flow of blood to the heart.
  • This test involves having your heart rate and blood flow monitored while exercising on a treadmill at different intensities, so the doctor can assess how well the heart compensates.
  • The entire test may lasts between two and three hours.

Overview

A nuclear cardiac stress test is an assessment that creates images to help a doctor measure blood flow to the heart. For this assessment, your doctor will inject a radioactive dye, or tracer, into a vein. This dye allows the doctor to take images of blood flow in the body.

After insertion, your doctor will ask you to perform 7 to 12 minutes of exercise at varying difficulties, to assess the flow of blood to your heart at different stress levels. 

About a nuclear cardiac stress test

A nuclear cardiac stress test can measure blood flow to the heart at various levels of exercise and heart rate, to ensure that adequate blood is being pumped to the heart.

In this test, your doctor will inject a radioactive tracer through a vein. After this injection, patients will begin between 7 and 12 minutes of exercise on a treadmill. The tracer will monitor and create images of blood flow during exercise. If the individual cannot perform exercise, a mimic drug will be inserted via IV to promote heart flow.

Candidates for a nuclear cardiac stress test

You may be a candidate for a nuclear cardiac stress test if you:

  • Have coronary artery disease
  • Are experiencing cardiac symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain

Expectations for a nuclear cardiac stress test

With a stress test, you can expect to:

  • Avoid eating, drinking, smoking, alcohol, and caffeine for a period before the test
  • Perform 7 to 12 minutes of exercise
  • Have a radioactive dye administered through an IV
  • Have an EKG attached to your chest
  • Have images taken of your heart as you lie on a table before and after exercise

The entire testing experience may take between two and three hours. If you are not able to exercise, a drug that mimics exercise may be administered intravenously.

Benefits of a nuclear cardiac stress test

Doctors may use a nuclear cardiac stress test to:

  • Identify coronary artery disease
  • Gather information about to how to treat a specific heart condition

Risks of a nuclear cardiac stress test

There are no serious risks accompanying  a nuclear stress test. Possible but rare symptoms and risks may include:

  • An allergic reaction to the dye
  • Arrhythmias
  • Heart attack
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Low blood pressure

Recovery from a nuclear cardiac stress test

Following a nuclear stress test, you can return to activities as normal. You will be advised to drink lots of water to flush the radioactive dye out of your body naturally.