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5215 Monticello Ave. Suite A Williamsburg, VA 23188

Stress Test

Nuclear Stress Test

Basic Facts

Heart ScanA nuclear stress test also referred to as a myocardial perfusion scan, is one of the most commonly performed diagnostic heart tests. During a nuclear stress test, a small amount of a radioactive isotope is injected into a person’s bloodstream. The distribution of the radioactive isotope in the heart muscle is recorded by a camera shortly after the person exercises. The camera produces three-dimensional images of the heart that show the physician exactly where the heart muscle may not be receiving enough blood and oxygen.

Coronary heart disease, or CHD, is the accumulation of plaque in a coronary artery sufficient to obstruct blood flow. One way that a physician diagnoses CHD is through a nuclear stress test. During a nuclear stress test, a small dose of a radioactive isotope is injected into the bloodstream. The radioisotope, or tracer, is carried through the bloodstream and into the myocardium, or heart muscle. Shortly after exercising, a special camera senses the radioactivity of the tracer and constructs an image of the heart. Parts of the heart muscle that receive normal blood flow receive larger amounts of tracer and appear brighter than areas that have inadequate blood flow.

The results of a nuclear stress test typically fall into three broad categories:

  • Normal
  • Blood flow defects during exercise, but not at rest
  • Blood flow defects during exercise and rest

Pre-Test Guidelines

People are instructed to avoid eating and drinking after midnight the night before the test and to discontinue certain medications. People should wear comfortable clothing in which to exercise. Pregnant women should check with their physician before engaging in a nuclear stress test.

Risk Factors

Nuclear stress tests pose a very little risk.

What to Expect

In the testing room, a nurse or technician will start an intravenous line, or IV, in the arm of the person being tested and will place approximately 10 small, sticky ECG electrodes with wires attached to them on the person’s chest and back.

Recordings of the heart’s resting activity are made before exercise begins. The patient begins the stress test by walking slowly on a treadmill. The speed and incline of the treadmill typically increase every 3 minutes to raise the patient’s exertion level and increase the work the heart must do. Exercise typically lasts from 5 to 15 minutes.

When the person’s maximum predicted heart rate has nearly been reached, the radioactive tracer is injected through the IV. The person continues exercising for about 1 minute to allow the tracer to disperse through the heart. The person is then asked to stop exercising and lie still on a table underneath a camera that rotates and senses the radiation being emitted by the tracer. The camera may record images for 30 to 45 minutes.

The person then relaxes for 3 or 4 hours, after which a second set of images are recorded. For people who cannot exercise, the effects of exercise can be simulated with drugs, such as dobutamine and regadenoson. The entire nuclear stress test may take between 2 and 6 hours.

Post-Test Guidelines

Patients are encouraged to drink plenty of fluids to flush the radioactive tracer. They can resume normal activities immediately following the test.

Possible Complications

Nuclear stress tests are safe; few complications are associated with them.

Our Location

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5215 Monticello Ave. Suite A
Williamsburg, VA 23188

Contact Us

Dear valued patient:

Thank you for entrusting Dr. Anh Campbell and Dr. William Beneke with your care over the past years at Advanced Cardiovascular Institute. With Dr. Campbell’s retirement, Dr. William Beneke has decided to move the practice and join TPMG Cardiovascular Diagnostic Center, effective December 1, 2022. The new address will be: 

TPMG Cardiovascular Diagnostic Center
5424 Discovery Park Boulevard
Building B, Suite 203
Williamsburg, VA 23188
(757) 565-0600

Your medical records will be transferred automatically to TPMG, as their electronic medical record system can facilitate that seamlessly. If you choose to transition your care outside of TPMG, you may contact the new office or TPMG Medical Records Department at (757) 232-8840 to obtain the necessary paperwork to proceed with a release or go to


Dr. Anh Campbell
Dr. William Beneke