Family Matters: Nuclear Stress Tests

WILMINGTON -- The nation was shocked in mid-June when NBC newsman Tim Russert died of a heart attack.  Russert's autopsy showed he had an enlarged heart and plaque in his arteries ruptured.

It's interesting to not that Russert had a regular exercise routine and it was reported that he was taking medication to control his coronary artery disease.

What has resulted after Russert's untimely and unexpected death is, more people with known heart diseases are now requesting their cardiologists to perform a more extensive form detection, called Myocardial Perfusing Imaging, or better known as a Nuclear Stress Test.

To demonstrate what a nuclear stress test would do, WECT's Bob Townsend volunteered to undergo one at Hanover Medical Specialists, under the supervisor of Doctor James Crafford.

While the regular stress tests measures the heart's electrical activity before, during and after exercise, the nuclear testing is performed in combination with an nuclear test.

During a nuclear stress test, a radioactive substance is injected into the bloodstream. This substance mixed with your blood and travels thru your system.

A special scanner, which detects the material in your blood creates images of your heart muscle. Inadequate blood to and from your heart will show up as a light spot on the images.

To get the blood flowing and pressure up, you will have to exercise on a treadmill.

But in about forty percent of patients, the treadmill procedure will not work, since the patient can't exercise to a high enough level to really make your heart work. For that group, doctors will administer medication that simulates the effect of exercise.

How reliable are nuclear stress tests in determining if a patient has blocked arteries?

Generally, a nuclear stress test is more accurate the provides more information than a standard exercise EKG. However, the tests are more expensive and require more time.

But depending on the results, your physician is often able to make a diagnosis and treatment plan for the patient.

Fortunately for me, when Doctor Crafford showed me my results, there were images of a healthy, normally beating heart and no signs of any arterial blockages.

There are things you can do to help avoid heart disease, things we have told you about before.  They include: quit smoking, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy diet and have regular screenings of your cholesterol and blood pressure.

Reported by Bob Townsend