A nuclear stress test measures the amount of blood that enters your heart during physical activity and while you’re resting. A tracer is administered through an IV, where it goes through your heart arteries. Special imaging monitors the activity of the tracer and checks for poor blood flow or heart damage.

When is a Nuclear Stress Test Done?

Before conducting a nuclear stress test, a cardiologist may run an exercise stress test. This is usually done to assess your heart’s response to moderate physical activity such as cardiovascular exercise. Your doctor may check for blood flow problems and determine if a nuclear stress test is necessary. Doctors may order nuclear stress testing for patients with coronary artery disease. The idea is to look for any risk factors for heart disease and to develop an appropriate treatment plan. The procedure uses positron emission technology or single-photon emission tomography scanners, which capture gamma photons. These photons help create myocardial perfusion images, which capture both resting and active heart rates. During the procedure, doctors check for myocardial perfusion, global left ventricular systolic function, and general heart function. This is how coronary artery disease is detected.

Why Doctors Use Nuclear Stress Tests

Coronary arteries are the gateway that transports blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the heart. When disrupted by coronary artery disease, they become impaired and cannot do their job. A nuclear stress test can help your cardiologist diagnose the condition and decide on a treatment plan that’s right for you.

Preparation: What to Expect

Like most procedures, a nuclear stress test requires some preparation. You may be asked to fast before the procedure and to abstain from smoking. Other substances like caffeine should be avoided until the procedure is over. Some medications can affect test results through a false reading. You may end up with an inaccurate reading if you take something that impacts your heart rate. Be sure to consult with your physician before stopping any medications before the procedure. Patients are asked to wear comfortable clothes, such as sweats and tennis shoes. This helps you relax more during the procedure and increases the likelihood of accurate results.

In the preparation phase, a review of a patient’s medical history is done. The cardiologist will perform a health screening, where they ask about your lifestyle and habits. You’ll go over a list of any medications you take, recent surgeries or treatments, and any medications you might be allergic to. From there, the doctor will listen to your heart and lungs as a precaution. This sets the pace for a safe and effective treatment plan that includes the right kind of diet and exercise plan.

The Procedure

The procedure is done using an IV that injects a radiotracer. This radiotracer is absorbed into the heart cells as a resting heart rate is taken. The next phase involves taking an active heart rate during light exercise. You may be asked to step on a treadmill or use a stationary bike as part of this step. When your heart rate reaches its peak, the doctor adds more radiotracer.  During all phases of the test, images are taken of the heart. Your doctor can troubleshoot any issues and give an assessment of them afterward.

Test Results: What to Expect

After the test, the doctor will review the results. They will discuss the heart photos taken before and during exercise. Normal blood flow in both phases of the nuclear stress test indicates a normal, healthy heart rate. At this stage, your doctor may conclude that everything is fine and no further tests are needed.
Low blood flow during exercise may mean you have one or more blocked arteries. But blood flow that remains low during rest and exercise is indicative of serious cardiovascular disease. At this point, surgery may be necessary. At Concierge Medicine and Cardiology of Fort Lauderdale, our team understands the value of customized care. It all starts with the doctor-patient relationship. Our doctors take a lot more than five minutes with each patient to understand their condition and determine the course of treatment. Call or visit us online today to learn more or to become a patient.

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