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What to Expect During a Nuclear Stress Test

Nuclear stress test: Does any medical procedure have a more unfortunate name? Any one of those three words is enough to make you a little bit nervous. Put all three together, and it’s easy to see why a lot of people worry about what to expect.

Fortunately, nuclear stress tests are actually pretty straightforward. And aside from an initial “pinch” during IV insertion, they won’t cause any pain or discomfort, either.

Nuclear stress tests provide Anthony B. Lewis MD, FACC, and the team at TLC Medical Group with a lot of important, in-depth, detailed information about your heart health. In fact, these tests provide so much data, our team uses them to assess heart damage, diagnose heart-related problems, and manage treatment.

Nuclear stress tests are used to diagnose and manage many heart issues, and they’re especially good at visualizing arterial blockages and damaged heart tissue. If you have an upcoming nuclear stress test at our practice in Port St. Lucie, here’s a quick review of what you can expect.

Nuclear stress test: The basics

First, let’s tackle the name. In a nuclear stress test, the word “nuclear” refers to the radioactive dye that’s injected into your bloodstream prior to your test. The dye shows up clearly on diagnostic imaging that’s performed during your test, allowing your doctor to visualize your blood vessels as your heart pumps blood.

The radioactive component of the dye “decays” or neutralizes very quickly. The dye itself will be eliminated from your body over the next couple of days through your urine or your stool. 

Next comes the “stress” part. In this case, stress refers to the physical stress that happens when you exercise. While an EKG monitors your heart at rest, a stress test evaluates your heart while you’re physically active.

If you’re unable to exercise, we can give you a medicine to mimic the effects of exercise. You’ll feel your heart speeding up while the medicine is in effect, but it wears off quickly — usually in just a few minutes.

What to expect during your test

Before the test starts, we inject the dye through an IV in your arm. Once the dye has a chance to circulate throughout your circulatory system, we take the first set of diagnostic images while your heart is at rest.

Next, a member of our team places EKG electrodes on your chest and belly. The electrodes allow our team to monitor your heart at all times during the test.

Now it’s time for the exercise part. If you’re healthy enough for exercise, you’ll walk on a treadmill while the speed of the machine gradually increases. 

Once your heart reaches a specific level of exertion, you’ll stop exercising and we’ll take the next set of images showing how your heart responds to exercise. After the test, you’ll wear the EKG electrodes for a bit longer so we can monitor your heart as it returns to a relaxed state. 

After your nuclear stress test

Our team reviews the results of your test while you’re in the office, then discusses them with you before you leave to go home. There are no aftereffects, and you can go back to your normal routine right away.

Hopefully, this quick overview helps you understand that, while nuclear stress tests might sound unpleasant, they’re actually pretty straightforward — and really important for helping your heart stay healthy. To find out more about nuclear stress tests at TLC Medical Group, call the practice or book an appointment online today. 

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