What is the stress test?
The stress test (also known as the exercise test) is used to diagnose and assess the blood flow within your heart. It diagnoses coronary artery disease, heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias) and it guides treatment decisions for other heart conditions.
What happens during the stress test?
During a stress test, you will walk on a treadmill or pedal a stationary bike. Exercise makes the heart pump harder and faster and can reveal any blood flow problems. The stress test normally takes around one hour, which includes prep time and the time it takes to perform the actual test. The exercise part of the test takes around 15 minutes.
How do I prepare for the stress test?
Before the patient undergoes a stress test, the specialist will conduct a clinical interview asking about his family and personal history and habits. The doctor will take your weight, height, body mass index (BMI), and fat, bone and muscle percentage.
A nurse will place sticky patches (electrodes) on your chest, legs and arms. The electrodes have wires that are connected to an electrocardiogram machine and records the electrical signals that trigger your heartbeats. As the test progresses, that exercise becomes more difficult. The doctor will be looking out for particular symptoms or signs that indicate irregularities in the heart.
What symptoms may occur during a stress test?
During a stress test, you will exercise until your heart rate has reached a set target or until you develop symptoms such as:
- Moderate to severe chest pain
- Shortness in breath
- Abnormally low or high blood pressure
- Feeling dizzy
- Certain changes in the electrocardiogram
What do you feel during the exam?
The patient will wear electrodes on the chest to record the activity of the heart. These can cause a burning sensation or mild itching. Although the stress test is generally safe, it can rarely cause chest pain or fainting in some people.
What do the results means?
If the stress test results show the heart function be normal, no further tests are required. If the results are abnormal, however, your doctor may recommend a nuclear stress test or another test, which includes an echocardiogram before and after exercise. These tests are more accurate and will provide more information about your heart.
The stress test may highlight if you have coronary artery disease or arrhythmia and your doctor will develop a treatment plan.