The objective of a pharmacological nuclear stress test is to simulate exercise in order to raise heart rate and essentially stress the heart. Instead of using a treadmill it is accomplished by injecting a medication that causes some blood vessels in the heart to open (dilate) just as would occur if you were exercising. Then using a radioactive tracer, special images of the heart are taken when it is exercising or being stressed followed by additional images of the heart taken the following day when the heart is at rest.
How to Prepare for the Test:
Stress Portion (Usually Day One):
- Do not eat or drink for four hours before the test
- Avoid caffeine (or decaffeinated beverages) for 24 hours prior to the test
- Bring a list of medications that you are currently taking
- You may be asked to not take some of your medications. It is important to check with your doctor to determine which medications are okay to take before the test.
- Plan to be at the first day of testing (the stress portion) for approximately 3 hours
Rest Portion (Usually Day Two):
- You may eat, drink and take your medicine before the resting portion of the test unless notified otherwise by your doctor
- Wear comfortable clothes, the pictures are taken while you lay on a table
- Plan to be at the second day of testing (the rest portion) for approximately 1 ½ hours.
What to Expect During the Test:
Day One: Stress Portion
A cardiac registered nurse and cardiologist are present during the test. An intravenous line (IV) will be placed in your arm. Small adhesive pads are placed on the upper body to monitor heart rate and EKG during the test. This test does not involve a treadmill. You will remain on a stretcher for this part of the test (approximately 20 minutes). A medication is injected through the IV line that simulates exercise in your heart. Then the nuclear tracer is injected through your IV. Blood pressure, heart rate, and EKG are frequently monitored before, during and after the test. After the tracer is injected you will have a 45 minute break during which you may eat and drink in the cafeteria. You will be given a specific time to arrive back for your imaging. The imaging takes approximately 20 minutes. The entire test takes approximately 3 hours.
Day Two: Rest Portion
At the second day of testing you will arrive back in Radiology, an IV will be placed in your arm and the nuclear tracer will again be injected. After a 45 minute break another set of images will be taken. These images are compared to the images taken on the first day of testing when your heart was being stressed. The test takes approximately 1 ½ hours. Please note: You may eat, drink and take your medication before this portion of the test.