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Exercise Stress Test With Nuclear Imaging

You have been scheduled for an exercise stress test. This information will help you know what to expect. Please arrive for your test at the time your doctor’s office tells you.

What is an exercise stress test?

An exercise stress test is a recording of how your heart performs under the stress of physical activity. This test will help your doctor know the overall condition of your heart. If your doctor wants information about how certain areas of your heart are working, he or she may order an exercise stress test with nuclear imaging for you.

Before the test

Be sure to ask your doctor if you should make any changes in your medicines and diet before the test. You may be told not to eat anything for several hours before the test. You may be told not to have any nicotine or caffeine products for 24 hours before the test.

Other instructions:

  • Wear comfortable clothing and walking shoes.
  • Do not use powders or lotions on your chest area the day of your test.
  • Be sure to tell your doctor if there is a chance you may be pregnant.

What happens the day of the test?

First, a staff person in the testing department will talk with you to learn what symptoms you are having. You will have an IV (intravenous) catheter inserted into your arm, so an isotope (EYE-suh-tope) can be given. An isotope is a radioactive material that helps make an image of your heart. Pictures usually are taken after you exercise. Some testing sites take them before you exercise.

Small, sticky patches — called electrodes — will be applied to your chest, so an electrocardiogram can be done. These electrodes will stay on while you exercise. They will record the electrical activity of your heart.

You will be asked to walk on the treadmill slowly at first. Then the speed and incline will increase at certain times to make your heart work harder. A doctor, nurse, or technician will monitor your progress. Your blood pressure and heart rate will be checked throughout the test. You will be asked if you have any discomfort while you are walking.

The exercise part of the test will stop when you have exercised as much as you can, or when the doctor has enough information about your heart. The isotope will be given while you are walking on the treadmill.

After you are done exercising, you will rest for a short period. This will allow your heart rate and blood pressure to return to normal. Next, you will lie down on a table under a camera. You will need to lie still while the camera takes pictures of your heart. You will not feel anything during this time. Most testing centers use a camera that moves non-stop for about 20 minutes. Other centers use a camera that is positioned by hand.

After the test

You can resume your normal activities after your test. The results will be sent to your primary care doctor. He or she will review the results with you. Ask your doctor if you should call for your results, and if so, when.  

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