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What is a Nuclear Stress Test?

            A Nuclear Stress Test is similar to an Exercise Treadmill Test, in fact the exercise portion is identical.  The difference is a radioisotope is used to make a blood flow image of the heart.  The blood flow images at rest and after exercise are compared by the cardiologist and blood flow limitations from a narrowed blood vessel can be detected.  Heart damage from a previous heart attack can also be determined. 

Why is a Nuclear Stress Test ordered?

            Like the exercise test a nuclear stress test is ordered to detect coronary artery disease.  The advantage of the nuclear test over a regular exercise test is of added accuracy, especially when the baseline electrocardiogram is abnormal.  It also may be ordered to evaluate whether a coronary stent or coronary artery bypass graft is functioning well and for preoperative risk assessment.

What can I expect the day of my test?

  1. No food for four hours prior to the test
  2. An intravenous catheter (a small tube) will be placed in a vein on your arm
  3. The radioisotope will injected at rest
  4. 30 to 45 minutes later a scan will be done of your heart (most often this will be done with you lying on your back with arms over your head under a detection camera, occasionally it is done sitting in a special chair),  the scan lasts 15 to 30 minutes.
  5. Following the resting scan an Exercise Treadmill Test is performed.
  6. At peak exercise the radioisotope is again injected
  7. 15 to 60 minutes later the scan is again performed, you may be asked to eat during this time
  8. Expect to be at the testing location for 3 hours

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