A nuclear stress test is one of the most common tests cardiologists use to diagnose and monitor many heart conditions. The test measures blood flow to the heart at rest and after activity, or stress.
The test shows how well blood flows to your heart and can help your doctor find out:
- If you have heart disease
- How well treatment — like medicine, angioplasty, or heart surgery — is working
- Whether you are healthy enough to start an exercise program or need to have surgery
A traditional nuclear stress test uses a gamma camera, a donut-shaped imaging machine, to take pictures of your heart. During the test, you get a shot of a harmless radioactive tracer and your heart is scanned at rest. Next, you exercise or take medicine to make your heart work harder, then get another tracer shot and a second scan.
In a gamma camera, you must lie completely still with your arms above your head, and each scan takes about 20 minutes. Some people with back pain, trouble breathing, claustrophobia, and other health problems find it hard to lie still in the scanner.
In this video, Prem Soman, MD, PhD, FACC, director of nuclear cardiology at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, explains how nuclear stress tests work using both a gamma camera and the newer D-SPECT® nuclear cardiology camera, which offers many advantages to some patients, including:
- A more comfortable test that allows you to sit up, instead of lying down
- Faster scanning time
- A lower dose of radiation