Exercise Stress Test
A stress test, also called an exercise stress test, shows how the heart performs during physical activity or stress. Because exercise makes your heart pump harder and faster, an exercise stress test can reveal problems with blood flow within your heart.
A stress test usually involves walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike while your heart rhythm, blood pressure, and breathing are monitored. Or you'll receive a drug that mimics the effects of exercise.
Indications of exercise stress test
Exercise stress test can help diagnose:
- Coronary artery disease. The coronary arteries are the major blood vessels that supply the heart with blood, oxygen, and nutrients. Coronary artery disease develops when these arteries become damaged or diseased — usually due to a buildup of deposits containing cholesterol and other substances (plaques).
- Heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias). Heart arrhythmias occur when the electrical impulses that coordinate your heart rhythm don't function properly, causing your heart to beat too fast, too slowly or irregularly.
- Guide treatment of heart disorders. An exercise stress test can help your doctor find out how well treatment is working for a known cardiac disease. It may also be used to help establish the treatment plan for you by showing how much exercise your heart can handle.
- A stress test can also help determine the timing of cardiac surgery, such as valve replacement. In some people with heart failure, stress test results may help the doctor determine whether you need a heart transplant or other advanced therapies.
How you prepare for the test
You will be given specific instructions on how to prepare for your test.You may need to avoid caffeine on the day of the test. You may be asked not to eat, drink or smoke for a period of time before a stress test. If you use an inhaler for asthma or other breathing problems, bring it to the test. Make sure your doctor and the health care team member monitoring your stress test know that you use an inhaler. Wear or bring comfortable clothes and walking shoes.
What you can expect During a stress test
A technician will place sticky patches (electrodes) on your chest and lower abdomen. Some areas may need to be shaved to help them stick. The electrodes have wires connected to an electrocardiogram machine, which records the electrical signals that trigger your heartbeats. A cuff on your arm checks your blood pressure during the test. You'll start exercise on a treadmill, slowly in the beginning. As the test progresses, the exercise gets more difficult. You can use the railing on the treadmill for balance. You continue exercising until your heart rate has reached a set target or until you develop symptoms that don't allow you to continue. These signs and symptoms may include:
- Severe shortness of breath
- Moderate to severe chest pain
- Abnormal heart rhythm
- Abnormally high or low blood pressure
Immediately inform the technician if you experience any of these. The test will be then terminated and you will be evaluated by the physician.