Nuclear Stress Tests

We take the care of our patients very seriously. To ensure we are maintaining the highest level of quality care, our Nuclear Lab is accredited by the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission (IAC). The IAC seeks to improve the quality of healthcare through accreditation and accountability.

What is a nuclear stress test and what does it do?

A nuclear stress test, also called myocardial perfusion imaging (SPECT scan), is a non-invasive cardiac stress test that can determine the functional capacity of your heart at rest and under stress, or during physical activity. Monitoring your heart at rest and under stress can give us insight into how well your heart is functioning and how at risk for a heart attack you are. For a full list of what we look for during a SPECT, please see our cardiac stress test page.

How does the study work?

Since blood flow through coronary arteries is typically adequate during rest but can be significantly reduced during exercise, the test requires us to monitor your heart at rest and under stress to correctly evaluate blood flow. The SPECT scan is performed on a treadmill, except in cases where the patient cannot walk. In these instances, medication is used to simulate the effects of exercise on the heart.

When you arrive at our office for the SPECT scan, you will go to a preparation area where a nuclear medicine technologist will insert a small IV into your arm. Using this IV, a small dose of a radiopharmaceutical tracer, or radioactive isotope, will be administered into your blood stream. After a waiting period, you will go to the imaging room to obtain images of your heart at rest. Then, you will go to the stress room where you will have a test done very similar to the exercise stress test. In the stress room, you will be connected to an electrocardiogram monitor. The stress portion of the exam will be explained to you, as well as the proper way to walk on the treadmill. You will begin walking on the treadmill, slowly at first, and then gradually the difficulty of exercise will increase. You will have to increase the pace of your movement as we increase the incline of the treadmill. The difficulty will continue to increase until you reach a target heart rate. Make sure to let us know if you start to experience physical discomfort.

If you are unable to walk on the treadmill, you will have a medicine injected into your IV to increase the blood flow, simulating the effect exercise would have on your heart. If we need to give you this stressor medicine, you may experience flushing, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, lightheadedness, or nausea. These symptoms are temporary and disappear within seconds. Many patients do not experience any symptoms.

Once you have reached the targeted heart rate through exercise, or after the stressor medication has been administered, you will receive another injection of a radiopharmaceutical tracer. You will go to the imaging room so we can obtain images of your heart during stress.

How long does a SPECT scan take?

The nuclear stress test takes about two and a half to three hours.

What should I expect after the SPECT scan?

After the procedure, you will be able to leave immediately with no restricted activity. You will be able to return to your normal diet, exercise, etc. You will also be able to take all of your prescribed medications.

Our physician will review your nuclear stress images and send a report to your doctor. Your doctor will review the results and contact you.

Note: If you plan on traveling within 2 weeks of your test, please let us know so we can give you a note.

How should I prepare for the SPECT scan?

Our Cardiac Stress Test Preparation page has all the information you need to know when preparing for this procedure.