Nuclear Stress Test

A nuclear stress test, also called a myocardial perfusion imaging test, measures how much blood is in your child’s heart muscle at rest and while exercising.

It can identify the cause of angina — unexplained chest pain that can happen with exercise. If your child has congenital heart disease, a nuclear stress test can help measure blood supply to the heart and how well the ventricles work.

Part of the test is done while exercising or with a medication that creates stresses on the heart similar to what happens during exercise. Another part of the test captures images of the heart at rest.

The board-certified and fellowship-trained specialists at Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, will use the results of a nuclear stress test to help determine the best treatment plan for your child.

A nuclear stress test involves injecting very small amounts of thallium — a radioactive material — into the bloodstream. The thallium makes its way through the arteries and veins of the heart while a camera rotates around your child’s chest. That creates images of the heart that are like X-rays, but from inside the heart. Radiation exposure from thallium is similar to that in a regular X-ray.

Nuclear stress testing can provide doctors with significant information for determining how to treat your child’s heart condition.

Norton Children’s Heart Institute is the leading provider of pediatric heart care in Louisville and Southern Indiana.

Norton Children’s has a network of outreach diagnostic and treatment services conveniently located throughout Kentucky and Southern Indiana.

Preparing Your Child for a Nuclear Stress Test

There will be restrictions on what your child can eat and drink, including avoiding caffeine for 24 hours before the test. Your child should wear comfortable clothing and shoes.

The test can last two to four hours. Each set of images —one batch at rest and the other when the heart is under stress — takes about 20 minutes. Your child will have to lie as still as possible while the camera moves around the chest.

The most common side effects from the medication are feeling flushed and feeling that the heart is beating faster and harder.

The chances are small that your child will have any heart issues during the test. If any complications occur, the Norton Children’s providers running the test have the training and experience to address of them right away.

Why Choose Norton Children’s Heart Institute

The Adult Congenital Heart Association has recognized Norton Children's Heart Institute for its expertise treating adult congenital heart disease.

  • Norton Children’s Hospital has been a pioneer in pediatric cardiothoracic surgery, performing Kentucky’s first pediatric heart transplant in 1986 and becoming the second site in the United States to perform an infant heart transplant.
  • The American Board of Thoracic Surgery has certified our cardiothoracic surgeons in congenital heart surgery.
  • The Adult Congenital Heart Association has accredited Norton Children’s Heart Institute’s Adult Congenital Heart Program as the only comprehensive care center in Kentucky and Indiana treating adults born with a heart defect.
  • More than 5,000 children a year visit Norton Children’s Heart Institute for advanced heart care.
  • Norton Children’s Heart Institute has offices across Kentucky and Southern Indiana to bring quality pediatric heart care closer to home.
  • The Jennifer Lawrence Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) at Norton Children’s Hospital is the largest dedicated CICU in Kentucky, equipped with 17 private rooms and the newest technology available for heart care.
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