What Happens During a Nuclear Stress Test?

There’s something about combining the words “nuclear” and “stress” that just doesn’t instill good vibes — at least, not at first glance. But a “nuclear stress test” is actually a very good thing. It can play a vital role in diagnosing and managing many types of cardiovascular disease, including coronary artery disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. 

At Phoenix Heart, PLLC, we use the most advanced nuclear stress test techniques to help patients in and around Phoenix, Arizona optimize their heart health. Here’s how a nuclear stress test works to diagnose and treat heart problems.

The science behind nuclear medicine

Nuclear medicine uses tiny amounts of radioactive materials (“radiotracers”) to capture images of your organs and blood vessels. The radiotracers are injected into your bloodstream shortly before your stress test. Once injected, the radiotracers emit signals that can be tracked by the nuclear imaging device, which in turn uses the signals to create images that show how the blood flows in and around your heart. 

Nuclear stress testing can be used to diagnose heart and blood vessel diseases, and it can also be used to look for signs of heart damage following a heart attack or other cardiovascular event. Sometimes, nuclear stress tests are used to manage treatment, using the imaging results to determine how well a specific treatment is working.

What to expect during your test

A nuclear stress test creates images of your heart while it’s at rest and during exercise, when your heart is under physical “stress.” Before your test begins, you’ll need to change into a medical gown, and electrodes will be placed on your chest. These electrodes help monitor your heart both at rest and while you’re exercising. You’ll also have an IV inserted in your arm so the radiotracer solution can be injected.

Next, you’ll exercise on a treadmill while the speed and incline are gradually increased until you reach a target level of activity. Once you reach that level of heart activity, the radiotracer will be injected and the doctor will use a diagnostic “camera” to capture images of your heart and blood vessels. After a period of rest, the doctor will take additional images of your heart.

At the end of your test, your doctor will evaluate both sets of images and compare them. The images show how your heart is functioning both at rest and when active, and they can also evaluate how well blood is flowing to and from your heart. By carefully examining the images, your doctor will be able to tell if your heart is functioning normally, or if there are areas where damage might be interfering with normal blood flow or heart function.

What if you aren’t able to exercise? Then, the doctor can inject a special medicine that increases your heart rate safely, mimicking the effect of exercise before capturing those images.

Before you come in for your test, you’ll be given instructions to help you prepare for your exam. Those instructions will tell you whether you need to skip meals before your test and whether you should continue taking certain medicines or wait until after your test to take them. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully, and call the office if you have any questions.

Keep your heart healthy

Having a regular heart checkup is an important part of making sure your heart stays healthy, especially as you get older. With locations in Goodyear, Buckeye, Anthem, Canyon City, and Glendale, Arizona, Phoenix Heart makes it easy and convenient to get the care you need for better cardiovascular health at every age. 

To learn more about the tests that can help you manage your heart health, call one of our five offices or request an appointment online to schedule an office visit.

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