There are two main kinds of stress tests, exercise, and nuclear stress tests. You can probably conjure up images in your mind of patients undergoing exercise stress tests with various tubes hanging off their bodies as they run on a treadmill. That image alone can be alarming to some.
The test, in both its forms, is simply a test to determine how well a patient’s heart operates under stress. These totally safe tests are critical in understanding what is really happening inside your heart muscles and diagnosing any cardiac conditions. But how much do you know about the two forms of this test? Here’s a breakdown.

Exercise Testing
Despite the image in your head, you do not have to be a world class athlete to successfully undergo an exercise stress test. When you first begin your test, a technician will hook you up to a series of devices which will monitor your heart’s functioning during the assessment. Specifically, they will be monitoring your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and the electrical functioning of your heart using an Electrocardiogram (EKG). As the test begins, the patient is asked to walk slowly on a treadmill, and then over time, the speed and difficulty of that walk are increased. As this happens, the technician is constantly monitoring the patient’s vital signs to determine how this added stress impacts the heart’s ability to function normally. The data from this portion of your test is then compared against data from your heart at rest and a determination about your heart health can be made.

Nuclear Testing
In both the exercise and nuclear versions of the test, images of your heart muscles will be taken before the stress portion of the test begins. These images act as a control to compare against images of your stressed heart later on. During a nuclear test, no exercise is required. This is a great option for elderly or disabled patients for whom running or even walking on a treadmill would be difficult. Instead of exercise, a radioactive dye called Dobutamine is injected into your veins. This substance mimics exercise by causing your heart to beat faster and harder while you are at rest. Despite common fears, this test is safe and the radioactive material will eventually be flushed out of your system.

The results of your test, whether you undergo the exercise or nuclear kind, will be very effective in helping your cardiologist to diagnose and treat any heart conditions you may have. There is no need to prepare in advance for this test, it’s not meant to be “passed” but instead to act as a tool to inform your doctors as they plan for your care moving forward. If you have more questions about stress testing, or if you’d like to meet a member of our team, contact us today.