What to Expect at Your Nuclear Stress Test

Nuclear Stress test

When you get to my age, you can probably expect to get doctors’ orders for a stress test. After all, we have all got to keep a check on our hearts. Heart attacks, strokes, and other issues can easily sneak up on us without even a clue. To learn more about the why of stress tests, go to this Mayo Clinic page

Two Types of Stress Tests

There are two types of stress tests, the regular treadmill test and then there is the nuclear test. Ironically, both my husband and I have had to go in for a stress test in the past month. My DH had the treadmill test. He came home saying that he wouldn’t wish that on anyone. It was a tough test. basically, they hook you up with nodes and then watch your heart while you walk the treadmill.

My mind first went to the Bill Cosby clip where he is basically dancing and playing on the treadmill, but listen … This thing starts hard and gets worse. The treadmill is elevated while you walk. You do this until your heart gets up to a certain rate. DH said that the technician indicated for those who are in “great shape”, it could take 20 minutes to get your heart rate up to where they want to see it. [It didn’t take near that long for DH]. The whole process for him was about an hour.

The Nuclear Stress Test

On the other hand, I am disabled, so I was given a nuclear test. I have had other nuclear tests where they inject “stuff” into your veins and then scan the body part of interest. I had a nuclear body scan as part of my diagnosis plan at Mayo Clinic. The nuclear stress test was very similar.

Cardiologist Consult

free from Pixabay

The paperwork I carried home from meeting with the cardiologist said that the whole thing would take about 4 hours. There were actually several different procedures they would be doing.

  • Insertion of IV port
  • ultrasound of the heart
  • echocardiogram
  • actual nuclear stress test
  • second echocardiogram

There were waiting times between all these, so I was in and out of the waiting room. [You may want to bring a book with you.] With the COVID-19 scare. I wasn’t able to bring my husband with me. We do all our appointments together. Going without him was unnerving for me and I was a bit concerned after his stress test experience.

I knew it would be different, but it was not at all like I expected. I expected to feel my heart rate rise and have my heart pounding out of my chest. It was none of that.

So, Let’s begin at the first of the day.

I was required to fast from caffeine for a full 24 hours and a full fast with nothing but water for four hours. As it turns out, this may have been the hardest part of the test. Thankfully, I was instructed to bring a snack and juice with me so that I could eat as soon as possible. I was also instructed to wear comfortable clothes. This is especially necessary if you are doing the treadmill test. I wore my favorite LulaRoes and a thick t-shirt.

This may have been the hardest part of my nuclear #stresstest. #hearthealth Share on X

I was also informed that I would have to remove my bra for these tests. This was fine because with my fibro a bra is NOT comfortable; however, being cold natured as I am, I about froze to death. You might ask if you can bring a sweater or a lap quilt/prayer blanket. I think it would be workable, it would just be one more thing that you are carrying around all morning.

IVs and EKGs

To begin the process, I was called back to have an IV port placed in my arm and those sticky nodes for EKGs. This technician talked with me about what all would be happening. He was very kind and understanding when I shared about my fibro pain. I told him I could not have my BP measured on my left arm. He said that was fine and that I could actually have the monitor placed on my lower arm of my right arm. This was a great relief to me.

Heart Ultrasound

Is was straight in to have my heart ultrasound at this point. Another lady took over and I went to another room. Here I had to remove my T-shirt and bra and put on a paper gown. Then she came in and did the ultrasound. No problem here. It is the same as getting an ultrasound anywhere else.

She placed warm “gooo” on me and pressed the gadget against my chest. It was a bit tender which she said was very normal; although remember I have fibromyalgia, I am tender everywhere. This whole process took maybe ten minutes. Then it was out to the waiting room until they were ready to do the next part. This is where I got the coldest and why you should wear a thick shirt and maybe have that sweater or blanket.

Cardiac Imaging

After about a 30-minute wait, they called me back for the imaging. This is similar to a CT scan or MRI. You sit in a recliner type chair and the machine is brought up close to your chest. The biggest challenge was that I have a bad shoulder and I needed to raise both arms above my head to bring the machine in. I can’t raise my left arm on its own, but I was able to grab my wrist and pick up my arm. Once the machine was in place, I rested my arms on top of it. This process took about 8 minutes. Then back to the waiting room for maybe 15 minutes.

Nuclear (or Chemical) Stress Test

It was now time for more nodes and wires hooked up to me. (Like an EKG) In another corner of the same room was a treadmill and a computer and reclining chair. I sat in the recliner and they injected me with the chemical. It burned as it went in and I had an instant headache. They tell you to let them know of any symptoms because they can help that. For the headache, I was given a Coca-cola. (Remember that I still haven’t had anything to eat since the night before.) The coke helped a bit.

Side Effects

The paperwork I was given said that people can various side effects:

  • chest pain
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • irregular heartbeat
  • flushing
  • numbness and tingling

As I mentioned the headache was the only one that I noticed. I truly expected to experience nausea and chest pain. I really expected that I would feel my heart trying to jump out of my chest, but I didn’t feel any of that, only the headache. This whole process didn’t even take 30 minutes.

Almost Finished

There was about a 30-40 minute wait, but I was now allowed to have that pack of crackers and juice I brought with me. I managed to read a couple chapters in my book and then they called me back for another echocardiogram. Same procedure, just a couple minutes shorter.

All finished but removing the sticky nodes. Ouch! and Putting yoru bra back on.

One More Thing

My doctor had also ordered a heart monitor halter to be worn for three days. So I waited again in the waiting room until someone from the doctor’s office side was ready to install the monitor. We’ll talk about that another day.

The nurse called me in a day or so with preliminary results on the stress test. But I have a three-week wait until my appointment for the treatment plan.

Have a heart!

Mandy Farmer

About Mandy Farmer

Pastor's Wife (retired) &  Chronic Pain Warrior blogs about how to make it through anything by relating her own life experiences to her writing. She is passionate about her love for the Lord and desires to spread that passion to others. She has a great desire to encourage women who are following behind her.

View all posts by Mandy Farmer

2 Comments on “What to Expect at Your Nuclear Stress Test”

  1. I’m praying so much for you dear sister, as you wait for your appointment to discuss your results! Yes, I have found that in all of the hospitals I am so cold! So, that shawl is a good item to pack in your carry-along. Thanks for this good information. xoxo

  2. When I experienced stress about going to this appointment, I thought, one thing I can do is share my experience so others can be comforted. THanks for being my greatest cheerleader. I too, am praying for you.

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