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What are the kinds of nuclear cardiology studies performed?

Cardiac stress testing with nuclear imaging is a very commonly performed test both in the office and hospital settings. It is generally considered a safe test if performed properly in the right patient in a setting familiar with the method. There are two main ways to achieve the "stress" part of the study:  Exercising to achieve a target heart rate, which usually requires 8 to 10 minutes of uphill walking, then running, or using a pharmacologic agent to stimulate the heart to achieve a similar kind of stress. In actuality the pharmacologic agent does not really "stress" the heart so much as it dilates the arteries in such a fashion that blood flow is increased to good areas of coronary artery circulation and is relatively decreased areas of impaired coronary circulation (blocked arteries). Both tests are equally safe and accurate.
The major determinate of which test is performed is based on the patient's ability to exercise. Sometimes the patient will start off exercising but will be unable to achieve the appropriate goal; the patient will then be switched over to a pharmacologic one. Both studies require that the patient receive an IV and that no food or caffeine is ingested for 8 hours or more prior to testing. Not drinking caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate, dark and certain light colas, etc.) is particularly important with pharmacologic testing as caffeine is a direct antidote to the testing agent used and will result in an unsatisfactory study giving inaccurate results. 
Another important thing to keep in mind is that pharmacologic testing should not be performed in patients with active asthma or a history of severe asthma, as wheezing can develop. Occasionally a third type of testing using a drug called dobutamine is used to stimulate the heart in the patient with asthma and the inability to exercise. This study indeed increases the heart rate and blood pressure but is safe if performed in a careful fashion.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.