What is a Nuclear Stress Test

November 12, 2012

What is a Nuclear Stress Test

A nuclear stress test sounds like an operational check of a power plant however, this nuclear stress test involves a heart exam. A nuclear stress test is also known as myocardial perfusion imaging and is different from a medicine or exercise stress test.

Basically a nuclear stress test or myocardial perfusion imaging allows a doctor to observe blood flow to your heart muscle by way of the coronary arteries and this is done while you are resting. In the case of medicine nuclear stress test, the doctor observes you when you have taken some drug that simulates exercise. And, of course exercise stress test is run while you are exercising.

The cardiologist wants to take a look at how your blood is flowing through your coronary vessels to see if you are getting adequate flow. Generally, during a rest state you will have good flow but it is under stress or physical activity you may not depending on any plaque present or other types of narrowing of the vessels. So, the nuclear stress test will allow the doctor to assess the health of your coronary arteries that supply oxygen and nutrients to your heart muscle. The cardiologist should be able to see areas that are narrower and restricted flow if they are there. This will help diagnose any condition and help to determine what can be done if anything.

An exercise stress test is done to test the coronary vessels during exercise like walking or running on a treadmill. Quite often an exercise test is not done because many patients cannot exercise to a high enough level to drive the system hard enough. So, a medication (drug) is administered to simulate the effects of exercise. Some clinics and hospitals use adenosine. Adenosine causes the blood vessels to dilate. However, where a blood vessel is hardened (plaque) dilation doesn’t occur so blood is diverted away from that area to other vessels that are larger in diameter. There are other drugs used that can cause the heart to contract harder and pump faster to simulate exercise. What medicine is used depends on the hospitals choice.

The nuclear stress test helps to identify an individual with coronary vessel problems but can also provide information on how severe the problem is. This allows for a proper prognosis since the test can determine who is at low or high risk. The nuclear stress test has been known to save lives.

There is another type of diagnostic test that can be done that doesn’t involve the imaging process and it is known as the standardized exercise test. This is generally done on individuals who are at low risk and healthy but would like to have some information on how well their cardiovascular system is working.


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