Nuclear Cardiology

Your heart receives life-giving blood from vessels called coronary arteries. If these arteries become partially blocked or narrowed by the build up of fatty material, your heart may not receive the blood it needs to function properly. The narrowing of the coronary arteries is called coronary artery disease (CAD). One of the most common ways for cardiologists to detect CAD is through a nuclear stress test. Nuclear stress tests pose very little risk. The test may be performed by walking a treadmill or by a medication, dependent upon the patient' s physical abilities.

Pre-Test Guidelines

  • No caffeine for 24 hours prior to test
  • Do not eat or drink 4 hours prior to test
  • Wear comfortable clothing in which to exercise
  • You may be asked to hold certain medications prior to test

Nuclear Stress Test Overview

To begin the test an IV is placed in the patient' s arm. A small amount of a radioactive tracer is injected through the IV. The tracer is carried through the bloodstream and into the heart muscle, where the heart is imaged using a special camera.

The patient then exercises on the treadmill, under supervision of the cardiologist. The treadmill will gradually speed up and incline every three minutes until peak exercise and/or heart rate is achieved. The patient's heart rate, rhythm, and blood pressure is monitored throughout. The patient typically exercises 3 to 12 minutes. When the patient reaches his/her peak exercise and/or heart rate a second injection of the tracer is given through the IV. A second set of images is taken after exercise using the special camera. 

If the patient is unable to exercise a medication is given to simulate exercise through the IV. The patient' s heart rate, rhythm, and blood pressure is monitored throughout. A second set of images is taken after the medication is given using the special camera.

The entire stress test can take up to 4 hours. Patients are encouraged to drink plenty of fluids after the stress test to flush out the remnants of the radioactive tracer. Normal activities may be resumed after the test.

The cardiologist will discuss the results with the patient. If the test is normal the cardiologist may ask the patient to continue their current diet and activities. If the test is not normal the cardiologist will discuss the best treatment options with the patient.