Myocardial Perfusion Imaging
(Nuclear Stress Test)
by Amy Scholten, MPH
Myocardial perfusion imaging is a test to look at the blood flow and function of the heart. It uses a low dose of a radioactive agent. Blood flow is tested when the heart is working hard. During the test, exercise or a drug may be used to increase the heart's workload.
Reasons for Test
Myocardial perfusion imaging is used to:
Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen such as:
During the test, the doctor and technicians will watch for any signs of heart or lung problems. They will be ready to act if problems develop.
What to Expect
Prior to Test
The doctor may meet with you to talk about:
Description of Test
A blood pressure cuff is placed on one arm. An IV is inserted into a vein on the other arm. Small, round pads are placed on the chest. They will monitor the heart's electrical activity. Blood pressure and heart rate are checked before, during, and after exercise.
A small amount of radioactive material will be given through the IV. This material will show parts of the heart with good blood flow. A special camera will show parts of the heart that are not getting enough blood. These images are taken during rest and exercise.
The heart may first be checked while at rest. The exercise or “stress” part of the test usually involves walking on a treadmill. Walking will be slow at first and then get faster.
For those who cannot exercise, the doctor may give a special drug. The drug makes the heart act as if the person was exercising.
About 15 to 30 minutes after exercise, images will be taken of the heart.
You will be able to leave after the test is done.
If medicine was used to increase the work of the heart, there may be side effects. They may include anxiety, lightheadedness, nausea, shakiness, or problems breathing. The care staff needs to know about any symptoms.
How Long Will It Take?
The entire test takes 3 to 5 hours. It may be done in one day or in parts over several days.
Will It Hurt?
In general, this test should not be painful.
The doctor will look at the images and discuss them with you.
Call Your Doctor
Call your doctor if you have:
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Cardiac nuclear medicine. Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info/cardinuclear. Accessed September 3, 2021.
Cardiac stress testing. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/evaluation/cardiac-stress-testing. Accessed September 3, 2021.
Hoffmann U, Ferencik M, et al. Prognostic value of noninvasive cardiovascular testing in patients with stable chest pain: insights from the PROMISE Trial (Prospective Multicenter Imaging Study for Evaluation of Chest Pain). Circulation. 2017;135(24):2320-2332.
11/30/2010 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed... : Einstein AJ, Weiner SD, Bernheim A, et al. Multiple testing, cumulative radiation dose, and clinical indications in patients undergoing myocardial perfusion imaging. JAMA. 2010;304(19):2137-2144.
Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Nicole Meregian, PA
Last Updated: 9/3/2021
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