Nuclear Stress Test

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As the mother of a child with a complex congenital heart defect, I have experienced (vicariously) a lot of different heart tests but last week I experienced (again, vicariously) a whole new kind of test with my mother. Unfortunately, high blood pressure is far too common on my mother’s side of the family. After having moved from Georgia back to Texas, my mother’s new cardiologist decided to get to the cause of her condition instead of simply accepting she was genetically predisposed.

First Mom had to wear a Holter monitor because, in addition to the high blood pressure she’s experienced for years, she had some atrial fibrillation (A-fib) while in the doctor’s office for a routine visit. The coupling of the high blood pressure and the A-fib caused a bit of a stir in the small-town clinic my mother visited. To our surprise, she was quickly whisked over to the emergency room via wheelchair. I watched as they hooked her up to another EKG machine and monitored her for a couple of hours.

The Holter monitor, EKG machine and blood pressure cuffs were all familiar and routine, as far as I knew — having seen my son have the same tests run on him time and again over the course of his 21 years of living with a congenital heart defect. Alex has even had a stress test, but he’s never had the kind of stress his grandmother had last week.

When the doctor said he wanted my mother to have a stress test, I wasn’t surprised or too concerned. Like I said, Alex has had the same test before, but Alex’s stress test wasn’t what was ordered for my mother. Instead, the doctor had ordered a nuclear stress test. This was entirely new to me and my mother.

According to my mother’s wonderful nurse, these kind of stress tests are not commonly done on people under the age of 40 (although, we were later informed by another nurse that he’s seen them done on people as young as 13 when the test was really warranted) because the doctors try to limit the amount of radiation the patients have to endure — although it was then quickly mentioned that my mother was not in any danger. Apparently this test is much improved now compared to what it was like many years ago when it was first developed and the exposure to radiation is nothing to be terribly concerned about.

Being part of the “sandwich generation” means that I get to see cardiology in a whole new way. For the last 21 years I’ve been learning about cardiology as it related to my son. Now I’m learning about cardiology as it relates to adults — and not adults with congenital heart defects, but simply to my mother. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has a nice page describing the test my mother had which you can reference by clicking on the link. It’s nice to know there are so many amazing tests available to help us understand what’s going on in our bodies. Mom said I could share this information with all of you because she knows I try to take the fear and mystery out of being a heart patient. The more we all know about what to expect, the better consumers of healthcare we can be. Let’s hope this test sheds some light on what’s going on in my mother’s body and, more importantly, let’s hope the test helps us find a way to lower my mother’s blood pressure.