Learn more about nuclear stress tests

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.

Visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute learn more about nuclear stress tests.

The test shows how well blood flows to your heart and can help your doctor:

  • Detect the presence of heart disease
  • Determine your risk for heart attacks
  • Understand how well treatment — like medicine, angioplasty, or heart surgery — is working
  • Decide whether you are healthy enough to start an exercise program or undergo

A traditional nuclear stress test uses a gamma camera, a donut-shaped imaging machine, to take pictures of your heart after injection of a radioactive tracer. The patient is scanned at rest and pictures are obtained. Next, you either exercise or receive medicine to simulate exercise and will have a second scan to obtain pictures after stress. Your doctor will compare the pictures obtained after stress to those obtained at rest.

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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.

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In this video, Matthew Harinstein, MD, FACC, FASE, FASNC, 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

Visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute learn more about nuclear stress tests.


About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute ranks among the best in the United States for complete cardiovascular care. U.S. News & World Report lists UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the top hospitals nationally for cardiology and heart surgery. We treat all manners of heart and vein conditions, from the common to the most complex. We are creating new medical devices and cutting-edge treatments that may not be available at other hospitals. We also offer screenings, free clinics, and education events in the community.