If you have heart disease, it’s important to keep an eye things. Your doctor will use various tests and techniques to track the developments. If your cardiologist is concerned about the blood supply to your heart, you may be ordered to undergo a nuclear stress test because you may be at risk for a heart attack.
A nuclear stress test will help assess three things about your heart:
- How well it’s pumping
- How well your blood is flowing
- Show the location of a previous or impending heart attack
In other words, a nuclear stress test is a non-invasive way to get a really good look at your heart.
Oftentimes, this type of test is ordered after you experience shortness of breath or chest pain. But the test can also be ordered even if you’re not showing symptoms. So, let’s take a look at what happens during a nuclear stress test and what you can do to prepare if you’re ordered to get one.
Nuclear Stress Test: The Camera
During a nuclear stress test a special camera will take images of your heart. It’s a gamma camera that detects radioactive energy being emitted from your body and converts it into an image. The gamma camera itself does not emit any radiation.
Nuclear Stress Test: The Dye
A small amount of radioactive dye will be injected into your bloodstream. The dye is injected with a needle in your hand or arm. The dye is also known as a tracer and will tell your doctor how adequate the blood supply is to your heart by showing how much dye is taken up by your heart.
You’ll get the injection about 30 minutes before the start of your nuclear stress test.
Nuclear Stress Test: The Exercise
Images will then be taken to assess your heart's health. They’ll be taken while you’re at rest and while you’re doing an exercise stress test. You’ll be asked to ride an exercise bike or walk on a treadmill. Depending on your medical condition, you may be asked to jog.
The goal is to get your heart beating more rapidly to see how well it’s working. If you’re not able to exercise, you’ll be given a medication that will increase blood flow to your heart.
Preparing For A Nuclear Stress Test
To prepare for your nuclear stress test, you can do three things:
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing
- Tell your doctor what medications you’re taking
- Don’t have a large meal before the test
You’ll need comfortable clothes to ride the bike or use the treadmill. Some medications may be slowing your heart rate down when your doctor is trying to speed things up, and digestion can interfere with the test results.
Your nuclear stress test should take 2-4 hours to complete.
Nuclear Stress Test Side Effects
A nuclear stress test is generally safe, but like any medical procedure it can produce side-effects. These may include:
- Chest pain during the test
- A temporary abnormal heart rhythm from the exercise or sometimes the medicine given during the test
- In extremely rare cases, an allergic reaction to the radioactive dye
If you have any concerns, talk to your doctor or a nuclear cardiologist.
If you’ve been diagnosed with coronary artery disease or are looking for ways to decrease your risk, check out our guide: “Heart Disease Facts That Could Change Your Life”. In it you’ll learn the telltale symptoms that say there may be something wrong with your heart.