Nuclear Stress Test: Benefits, Risks, Results

It makes it easier to track the blood flow into the heart, which can provide doctors with critical information about certain heart-related conditions and diseases. The test can also provide key information like the patient’s blood pressure.

A doctor and his patient standing

How is your heart health? Doctors use various tests to determine how well the vital organ is working. One of these tests is something called a nuclear stress test. The “nuclear” part doesn’t mean you’re super-stressed out. It’s about the substance used to track how blood flows into the heart. In some situations, doctors don’t just want to find out your heart rate or blood pressure. They’ll also want to know how the heart functions when you’re doing physical activity as you would while working or exercising, for example. It’s the “stress” part of the test’s name and reveals more than stats when the heart is at rest.

This sort of test can certainly be effective. It makes it easier to track the blood flow into the heart, which can provide doctors with critical information about certain heart-related conditions and diseases. The test can also provide key information like the patient’s blood pressure. The stress test can provide key information like whether or not you’re suffering from heart disease, or if it’s getting worse. Like other tests, it’s important to know the various risks involved. One of the most obvious ones is the ultra-strong radioactive material used to conduct the test. As always, you’ll have to weigh the risks and benefits.

Benefits of Nuclear Stress Test

This test involves using radiative material and a special camera to watch how blood flows into the heart muscles when the patient is active and at rest.

Here’s how it works. After an intravenous (IV) line is started a radioactive substance is then injected into one of the patient’s veins. The test’s administrators then use a special camera to scan the person’s heart. This allows them to see the path of the substance through the bloodstream and into the heart.

The patient is then required to either walk on a treadmill or pedal on an exercise bike. They must walk on the treadmill at a slow pace, then at a faster pace and at an inclined angle.

Another benefit of this test is it can be conducted if someone isn’t able to exercise. They take a special prescription med that dilates the heart arteries. Another alternative is to take a med that causes the patient’s heart to beat faster like during exercise. 

Yet another benefit of the stress test is it allows physicians to monitor your blood pressure and ECG (heart rhythm). These are important indicators of how effectively your heart is working.

The second stage then starts. After the radioactive substance is injected into a vein again you must wait 15-45 minutes. A camera then scans the heart.

Your physician can then compare the first and second sets of images. Another plus of this test is it gives them the ability to determine if you have heart disease. If you’ve already been diagnosed, they can determine if it’s getting worse.

These are important findings. In both cases, it will allow your physician to prescribe the meds and treatments that will treat your heart disease as effectively as possible.

There’s also a chance you don’t have cardiovascular disease. In that case, you can take steps to help reduce your risk of acquiring it.

Risks of Nuclear Stress Test

This test provides several benefits including the ability to detect undiagnosed heart disease. It’s also worth noting that this test is usually safe.

However, there are also some possible risks that are also worth noting including the following ones:

Mild Symptoms

You could experience one of many mild symptoms from these stress tests including:

  1. Anxiety
  2. Chest pain
  3. Dizziness
  4. Flushing
  5. Headache
  6. Nausea
  7. Shakiness
  8. Shortness of breath

There are some exceptions but in most cases these symptoms are rare. It’s still important to inform your doctor if you experience any of them during or after the test is conducted. This might result in some tweaks being made.

Heart Attack

This is a rare reaction but in some rare cases, a nuclear stress test can trigger a heart attack. That’s usually due to the person already having conditions like heart disease, which could result in a heart attack due to the physical activity the test requires.

Low Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is certainly a condition you should try to avoid and especially if you have a heart condition that it can affect.

However, it’s also important to watch for slower heart rates that result in blood pressure. This might happen during exercising or right afterward. It could cause you to feel weak or dizzy.

The good news is this symptom usually doesn’t last long. It should even go away after you stop your exercising.

Allergic reaction

A radioactive dye is used during the test and injected into the patient when conducting the test. Since the dye is radioactive it can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Make sure to inform your doctor if you experience symptoms from such reactions. 

Tell a test-administrator if you experience 1+ of these signs/symptoms during the testing. It might not seem major but could be a warning sign that something isn’t right.

Test Results

It’s also important to know the basics about the results of the nuclear stress test.

After the test is complete your doctor might require you to stand for a while then lie down while the monitors are still connected. Your physician can monitor for any warning signs as the pumping of your lungs and heart return to their normal rates.

Following the test, you can normally return to your everyday activities. In some cases, your doctor might forbid that for a while.

One important step is to drink lots of water after the test. This will remove the radioactive dye. As the name suggests this contains strong chemicals so it’s important to get them out of your body’s digestive system.

Your physician will then talk to you about the test results. Here are some of the things the results would indicate:

Normal blood flow (exercise/rest)

This is doubly good news and could show that more tests aren’t required.

Normal blood flow during rest (not during exercise)

This means an area of your heart isn’t getting enough blood when you’re doing exercise. It could indicate that you have 1+ blocked arteries. Your doctor can share your treatment options, which could include prescription meds.

Low blood flow (rest/exercise)

If you get this result then it means a section of your heart doesn’t always get enough blood. This could be based on a past heart attack or blocked artery/arteries.

No radioactive dye in some heart parts

This usually results from tissue damage that took place after a heart attack.

In some cases, you might need to undergo a test if your heart doesn’t have enough blood flow. The test examines the blood-supporting blood vessels. In cases of severe blockages, this could require open-heart surgery or other procedures after the nuclear stress test.

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