by Scholten A
(Nuclear Stress Test)


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.

Blood Flow Through the Heart
Blood Flow Through the Heart
Copyright © 2002 Nucleus Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Reasons for Test

Myocardial perfusion imaging is used to:

Possible Complications

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:

  • Any allergies or other conditions you may have
  • Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take and whether you need to stop taking them before the test
  • Fasting and avoiding certain food or drinks in the days or hours before the test
  • Whether you need a ride to and from the test

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.

Those with coronary artery disease may feel chest pain or angina during the test. The doctor may give medicines and stop the test.

After Test

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:

  • Symptoms that continue or get worse
  • Any new symptoms
  • Ongoing side effects from the medicines

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.


American Heart Association 

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute 


Health Canada 

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada 


Cardiac nuclear medicine. Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: Accessed September 3, 2021.

Cardiac stress testing. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: 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  : 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.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Nicole Meregian, PA
  • Review Date: 07/2021
  • Update Date: 09/03/2021