Nuclear Stress Test
Nuclear Stress Test
To see the efficiency of blood flow through your heart and spot any potential blockages, Nuclear Cardiology board-certified doctors may conduct a Nuclear Stress Test.
By definition, a Nuclear Stress Test is done to measure your blood flow at states of rest, exertion, and medication. Through the test, your doctor is able to tell which areas of your heart have low blood flow.
Typically, the complete test considers images of your heart when at rest and when under stress by exercise or medication.
It’s one of the tests that could be carried out to diagnose the likelihood of a Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD).
Why a nuclear stress test?
Your doctor may opt for a Nuclear Stress Test if you experience symptoms such as shortness of breath and chest pain. Routine stress tests don’t specify the cause of these symptoms.
The test can also be used to help shed a light on the treatment methodology in case you’re diagnosed with a heart condition such as CAD or arrhythmia. It helps them determine how well the treatment is working and set the right treatment path. It also helps determine the amount of exercise your heart can handle comfortably.
Here are more reasons why your doctor may recommend a Nuclear Stress Test:
- To diagnose Coronary Artery Disease (CAD): Coronary arteries are the main blood vessels tasked with supplying blood, nutrients, and oxygen to your heart. When plaque builds up in the coronary arteries, they become damaged or develop diseases. Symptoms such as shortness of breath and chest pains may indicate CAD. A Nuclear Stress Test may be necessary to determine if it really is CAD.
- To see the size and shape of your heart: The images taken during a Nuclear Stress Test can help determine if the size and shape of your heart are normal and measure its ejection fraction (the pumping function of the heart).
Does a nuclear stress test show blocked arteries?
One of the main reasons why a Nuclear Stress Test may be necessary is to determine if blood is flowing freely enough through your coronary arteries. It helps identify blockages and damage in your heart blood vessels.
How long does a nuclear stress test take?
The Nuclear Stress Test comprises of two parts: One in resting state and another during exercise. In total, the two portions can take anywhere between 3 and 5 hours.
What should you expect during a nuclear stress test?
When you arrive, your doctor will ask you about your medical history and your physical activity behavior.
Before the test, a technician will insert an Intravenous Line (IV) into your hand or arm then place patches (electrodes) on your chest, arms and legs. These patches connect to an Electrocardiogram Machine which records your heartbeat triggers. There’s also a cuff on your arm that helps check changes in your blood pressure during the test.
For the resting portion of the test, a radioactive dye is introduced into your bloodstream through the IV and allowed to circulate for a while. Then images of your heart are taken to show the resting blood flow.
For the stress portion, you’ll be placed on a treadmill/stationary bike or––if you can’t exercise adequately––given some medication through the IV. After your heart is stimulated, more radioactive dye is introduced into your bloodstream through the IV. And again, images of your heart muscle are taken using a machine resembling an X-Ray machine.
These two images help the doctor determine the efficiency of your blood to your heart at rest and when under stress.
Depending on the kind of medication administered to you, side effects may be similar to those you’d get from exercising including shortness of breath and flushing.
If you’re exercising, the test will begin slow on the treadmill and increase in speed with time. The doctor will advise you not to hang too tightly on the railing as this may skew the results. If you’re put on a stationary bike, resistance will increase as the test progresses.
The stress test continues until your heart rate reaches a set target but you can ask your doctor to stop the test if you get too uncomfortable to continue.
What are the risks?
While the test involves the patient being exposed to some amount of radiation, the Nuclear Stress Test is generally considered safe. Complications are rare but not ruled out. They include:
- Allergic reactions to the radioactive dye
- Arrhythmias caused by the exertion or medication. It goes away gradually once you stop the exercise or the medication wears off.
- Heart attack. This is extremely rare.
- Chest pains or flushing. These are usually brief but be sure to tell your doctor the moment they occur.
To learn more about the Nuclear Stress Test, request an appointment at our facility anytime between 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. from Monday to Friday or simply contact us to speak with a representative.