There are several reasons your local cardiologist may ask you to undergo a stress test:
-If you currently have heart disease or are at high risk for heart disease
-If you are showing symptoms of heart disease such as chest pain, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat
-If you are joining a cardiac rehabilitation program or starting an exercise program and need to know what level of exercise is right for you
-If you have received treatments for heart disease that are working for you
-If other tests are needed to detect narrowed arteries.
A stress test is typically not given if you are not showing symptoms or have a current heart condition. A stress test involves activity that causes your body to work harder and pump more blood from the heart so your cardiologist can evaluate your heart’s performance during a heavier workload. This physical activity is typically in the form of a treadmill and is not nearly as intimidating as it sounds! You are simply hooked up to monitoring equipment and walking in place. Different speeds and inclines may be implemented on the treadmill settings and you may be asked to breathe into a tube for a few minutes. You are able to stop the test at any time! Throughout the test, your cardiologist will check your heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, how you feel, and electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG).
A stress test is not the same as a nuclear stress test. A nuclear stress test is typically performed in people who are suspected to have coronary artery disease or have already been diagnosed. This test is often used to help develop an optimal treatment plan or provide a clearer path for further testing. A nuclear stress test can help judge the effectiveness of existing therapy and provide more information about how much daily activity and exercise is right for you.
How is a nuclear stress test different from a standard stress test?
While both tests are designed to measure the effectiveness of the heart, the nuclear stress test involves injecting a radioactive dye into your bloodstream through an IV that allows images to be taken of your heart both at rest and while under stress. A standard stress test involves heart “stress” by form of exercise on a treadmill where a nuclear stress test can either be done by exercise or medication. Medication is given when you are unable to exercise adequately. It stimulates the body and the heart the way exercise would, which can create possible side effects that would be standard with exercise such as flushing or shortness of breath.
During a standard stress test, your data is taken while you are on the treadmill. During a nuclear stress test, you will lie on a table and have images taken of your heart while at rest, and again once you have hit a target heart rate or develop symptoms that don’t allow you to continue such as chest pain, abnormal blood pressure, dizziness etc. The two sets of images allow your cardiologist to compare the blood flow while at rest and while undergoing a heavier workload.
It also gives your doctor the opportunity to determine the size and shape of your heart. A nuclear stress test will take a good bit longer than a standard stress test and results will not be immediately available as they images must be processed prior to being overviewed by your cardiologist.
While there are risks with any procedure, both of these tests are safe and complications are rare. For an overview on risks associated with nuclear stress tests, click here. Both tests effectively provide a better overview of how your heart is performing and if there should be any level of concern. If you are experiencing any symptoms of heart disease, do not hesitate to reach out to us. Dr. Thomas is a board certified nuclear cardiologist and will guide you through the best steps to evaluating your situation and getting you heart healthy!