At rest, your heart may appear to be working fine. However, when you physically exert yourself, your heart rate and blood flow increase in order to be able to provide your cells with more oxygen and nutrients (oxygen-rich blood), circulating blood to and from the heart. The heart beats harder and faster, raising blood pressure. If for any reason your heart cannot pump blood in and out properly, you are more at risk for a heart attack or stroke. For this reason, doctors sometimes suggest a nuclear stress test, where they can monitor the blood flow in the heart, both at rest and after vigorous exercise.
This way, any signs and symptoms of heart problems will be more prominent. The exam can be used to measure the blood flow to the heart as well as to see any areas where the heart has been damaged (such as by a heart attack). The test measures blood flow to the heart muscle both at rest and during stress on the heart. Imaging is done while your heart is at rest, and the second round of imaging is done following some form of exercise or stress to the heart. In some cases, a medication is used, however the exercise most often used to raise the heart rate is by running on a treadmill.
Along with monitoring your heart rate and blood pressure, the information obtained from an EKG enables your doctor to detect any heart problems. Heart problems commonly found through a stress test include abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia), inadequate blood flow, heart valve malfunction, and the presence of coronary artery disease.
If there is in fact a problem with your heart, your doctor will use Imaging techniques such as an echocardiogram and nuclear imaging. The echocardiogram enables your cardiologist to see the size and shape of your heart, thickness, and movement of your heart muscle; how well the chambers and valves in your heart are working; and the force with which your heart contracts. Nuclear imaging shows your cardiologist how well your heart is pumping blood with each heartbeat.
During a nuclear stress test, your electrocardiogram (EKG), heart rate, and blood pressure are monitored. The EKG measures the electrical activity that moves through your heart with each heartbeat, and a healthy heartbeat patterns. If your heart is not working properly, this pattern will be shown. Heart problems commonly found through a stress test include abnormal heart rhythms, inadequate blood flow, heart valve malfunction, and the presence of coronary artery disease.
For accuracy purposes, some diagnostic tests require a little preparation on your part. So, what do you need to do before you have a nuclear stress test?
- Don’t eat too much: Your goal is to have an empty stomach, so don’t eat too much before you have a stress test. Experts state that individuals can exercise longer and more safely when their stomach isn’t full.
- Don’t drink caffeine: Skip your morning coffee and avoid taking over-the-counter medications that contain caffeine. Avoid caffeine for at least 24 hours before testing. Caffeine raises the heart rate, and constricts blood vessels, potentially throwing off testing results.
- Exercise beforehand: Daily gym routines aren’t necessary, but you should strive to have some type of daily activity before the test.
- Diabetics: If you have diabetes and use insulin or oral diabetes medications, ask your doctor for specific instructions.
Tests like this are a vital part of diagnosing potentially dangerous cardiovascular conditions. One of the main reasons a stress test is done, is to see how your body reacts under strenuous conditions, while being closely monitored by trained healthcare professionals. This way, you not only rule out any serious medical concerns, you also have a good idea of your limits and capabilities, and how to achieve better fitness goals.
To learn more about what a nuclear stress test is and how to prepare for it, call SC Internal Medicine Associates and Rehabilitation at (803) 749-1111 to make an appointment, or schedule one online.