How Safe Is a Cardiac Chemical Stress Test?

Complications during a chemical stress test are rare, states Mount Sinai Hospital. Potential problems include chest pain, irregular heartbeat, heart attack and shortness of breath. When conducting the test, technicians watch for signs of these complications and have a cardiologist observe to treat any complication immediately. However, in 2013 the Food and Drug Administration issued a safety notice about the risk of heart attacks and death when undergoing a chemical stress test.

Doctors use a chemical stress test to find out if the heart muscle gets adequate blood flow under stress, notes Mayo Clinic. A chemical stress test uses dobutamine or adenosine to stimulate the heart instead of exercise, according to SJH Cardiology Associates. To minimize possible complications, a doctor may recommend that the patient walks slowly during an adenosine stress test.

A nuclear stress test uses radioactive dye to take images of the patients heart at rest and under stress, explains Mayo Clinic. Doctors combine the test with a standard treadmill stress test or a chemical stress test, notes SJH Cardiology Associates. Patients who undergo a nuclear stress test seldom experience complications, so doctors categorize the test as safe, according to Mayo Clinic. However, patients risk the possibility of a heart attack, allergic reaction, abnormal heart rhythm and chest pain during the test. Sometimes these complications are fatal.