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Alternative Names Return to topSestamibi stress test; MIBI stress test; Myocardial perfusion scintigraphy
Definition Return to top
Thallium stress test is a nuclear imaging method that shows how well blood flows into the heart muscle, both at rest and during activity.
How the Test is Performed Return to top
This test is done at a medical center. The test is done in two parts:
The radioactive material may be thallium or sestamibi. (If sestamibi is used, it's called a "sestamibi stress test.") This substance travels through your bloodstream into the heart muscle.
Next, you will be asked to lie down on a table under a special camera that scans the heart. A computer creates pictures of the heart by tracking how the radioactive material moves through the area.
The first pictures are taken shortly after you get off the treadmill or are given the vasodilator drug. These images show how blood flows to the heart during exercise. This is the part most commonly referred to as the "stress test," because it is the most challenging for your heart.
After lying quietly for a few hours, you'll have more pictures of the heart taken. These images show blood flow through your heart during rest.
The entire test can take about 4 hours. You will usually be given a long break in between scans and allowed to have caffeine-free lunch or a snack at a nearby cafeteria.
How to Prepare for the Test Return to top
You should wear comfortable clothes and shoes with non-skid soles. You will probably be asked not to eat or drink anything after midnight, except for a few sips of water if you need to take medicines.
You will need to avoid caffeine for 24 hours before the test. This includes caffeinated beverages such as tea, coffee, and sodas, as well as chocolates, and certain pain relievers.
Your doctor will tell you if you need to stop taking any medicines before the test. Medications used to treat asthma and angina may interfere with test results. Never stop taking any medicine without first talking to your doctor.
How the Test Will Feel Return to top
Some people feel fatigue, muscle cramps in the legs or feet, shortness of breath, or chest pain during the treadmill test.
If you are given the vasodilator drug, you may feel a sting as the medication is injected, followed by a feeling of warmth. Some patients also have a headache, nausea, and a feeling that their heart is racing.
If any of the symptoms listed above appear during your test, let the lab personnel know immediately.
Why the Test is Performed Return to top
Your doctor may order this test to determine:
Normal Results Return to top
A normal result means blood flow through the coronary arteries is normal.
Note: Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different medical centers. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.
What Abnormal Results Mean Return to top
Abnormal results may be due to:
Risks Return to top
Complications are rare but may include:
Your health care provider will explain the risks before the test.
Considerations Return to top
Breast tissue in women and non-heart tissues such as the diaphragm can sometimes cause false positive test results. Further tests may need to be done to confirm the results. These may include a a stress echocardiogram or a cardiac catheterization.
References Return to top
Udelson JE, Dilsizian V, Bonow RO. Nuclear Cardiology. In: Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine, 8th ed. St. Louis, Mo: WB Saunders; 2007: chap. 16.Update Date: 5/13/2009 Updated by: Benjamin Taragin M.D., Department of Radiology, Montefiore Medical Center Bronx, N.Y. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.