Explore This Procedure

Cardiac Stress Tests

Nuclear cardiology and stress testing at the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center is a joint effort between the cardiology and radiology departments and provides various types of heart stress tests that help to identify and diagnose heart disease. Cardiologists use the cardiac stress test for different reasons depending on a patient’s condition. Our team may recommend a cardiac stress test to:

  • Evaluate the cause of chest pain
  • Measure the strength of your heart after a heart attack or surgery
  • Establish a baseline for patients who have cardiac risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or a family history of coronary artery disease
  • Determine how well your heart tolerates exercise and activity

Nuclear cardiology nurses are carefully trained to conduct stress testing as well as respond to any issues surrounding the test. Cardiac nurses perform a focused interview with the patient as well as assess the appropriateness of the stress test. In addition, nurses provide a thorough explanation of the test to be performed and answer any patient questions.

During the study, nurses carefully monitor the patient’s responses to the test, including blood pressure, heart rate and the electrocardiogram. After the test, cardiac nurses document the study findings, and the study is finalized by a cardiologist who specializes in stress testing.

About the Test

An imaging stress test­—also called a nuclear or Sestimibi stress test—is similar to the exercise stress test but provides more information by using images to show the blood flow to the heart muscle. The test uses a radioactive substance, which mixes with the blood and enters into the cells of the heart muscle. If the substance does not reach the heart, it means the arteries may be blocked or there may be damage to the heart.

The radioactive substance is injected two times - first at rest and a second time when you are at peak exercise. It is usually performed in conjunction with an exercise stress test, using either conventional exercise on a treadmill or using a medication, such as adenosine or dobutamine, which increases the heart rate like exercise.

Preparing for the Test

  • When your test is scheduled, it is important to ask your referring physician if you should take any of our medication before the test.
  • You should not eat for three hours before your test.
  • Drinking water is okay.
  • Because caffeine could interfere with the test, please do not drink coffee, tea, soda (including decaffeinated) or eat chocolate for 12 hours before your test.
  • We recommend that you wear walking shoes and a comfortable two-piece outfit.

After the Test

As soon as the test is over, you may eat and return to your normal routine. Ask your doctor about taking any medicine that you were told to skip before the test.