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A Nuclear Stress Test measures blood flow to your heart muscle both at rest and during stress on the heart. It is performed similarly to a routine exercise stress test, but provides images that can show areas of low blood flow through the heart and areas of damaged heart muscle.
A nuclear stress test involves taking two sets of images of your heart – one set of pictures of your heart at rest, and another set of your heart during an exercise stress test while you are exercising on a treadmill or with medication that stresses your heart.
You may be given a nuclear stress test if your doctor suspects you have coronary artery disease(blockage in pipes of the heart) or another heart problem, or if an exercise stress test alone was not enough to pinpoint the cause of symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath.
At rest the nuclear technologist will start an I.V. line and inject a nuclear isotope. This is a radioactive material that is not a dye and does not cause any side effects. You will be asked to have a seat in the waiting room for about 30 minutes with a glass of water. Then you will be taken back for your first set of pictures at rest. This usually lasts 15 minutes.
For the second part of the test (with exercise and a cardiologist present) you will be walking on a treadmill that is on an incline. During this part of the test you are hooked up to a monitor that will be recording your heart rhythm and the technician will be present to take your blood pressure. A minute before you are done exercising you will be injected again with a nuclear isotope for your second set of pictures of your heart after exercise. These sets of pictures will take about 12 minutes.