Everything to know about a stress test

A stress test is a diagnostic test used to measure how the heart responds to physical or emotional stress. It can help determine whether enough blood flow and oxygen are getting to the heart muscle during activity.

Stress tests are a valuable diagnostic tool that can help your doctor determine how well your heart is coping with stress. By putting your body under physical stress, a stress test can help identify problems with blood flow and the shape and size of your heart.

You can get a stress test if you have chest pain, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, or other signs and symptoms of coronary artery disease (CAD).

Types of Stress Tests

There are two main types of stress tests:

Exercise stress test

This is the most common type of stress test, and it’s done on a treadmill or stationary bike. The test usually starts with walking slowly and then gradually speeding up.

Your health care provider will monitor your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing during the test. You may also have an electrocardiogram (EKG) done simultaneously. An EKG is a test that measures the electrical activity of your heart.

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You may be asked to stop the test if you have chest pain, shortness of breath, or an irregular heartbeat.

Nuclear Stress Tests

You’ll be given a radioactive dye through an IV for this stress test. The dye helps the nuclear medicine imaging camera get clear pictures of your heart.

You’ll then have an EKG and be asked to walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike. If you’re not healthy enough for this, you’ll be given a drug to make your heart beat faster. The camera will take pictures of your heart while you’re at rest and during exercise.

You may do the test in two parts on different days. Or it may be done all at once if your doctor thinks you can handle the stress.

Stress Echocardiograms

This test is a combination of an echocardiogram and a stress test. An echocardiogram uses ultrasound waves to create a moving picture of your heart.

For this test, you’ll have an echocardiogram while resting, and then you’ll have another one after you’ve exercised on a treadmill or stationary bike. Again, you’ll be given medicine to speed up your heartbeat if you can’t exercise.

The test will show how well your heart and its valves are working.

How Can a Cardiac Stress Test Help?

A cardiac stress step test can find out if your heart isn’t getting enough blood flow during exercise. This is called coronary artery disease (CAD).

CAD happens when plaque builds up in your coronary arteries. Plaque is made of fat, cholesterol, and other substances found in the blood.

Over time, plaque can harden or rupture (break open). This causes a blood clot to form on the plaque. If the clot becomes large enough, it can partly or completely block blood flow through a coronary artery. This condition is called acute coronary syndrome (ACS). ACS can cause a heart attack.

A cardiac stress step test can also show how well your heart and blood vessels work. This information can help your healthcare provider plan your treatment.

For example, the test results may show that you need Angioplasty, stenting, or coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) medications to treat CAD, heart failure, or arrhythmias.

How to prepare for a Stress Test

You may need to stop taking certain medications before the test, including beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and nitrates. Your healthcare provider will tell you if you need to stop taking any of your medications.

You may also need to avoid eating or drinking for 3 to 4 hours before the test because food and drinks can affect your heart rate.

You should wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing and shoes. You may remove any jewelry, such as a watch or rings.

What Happens During a Cardiac Stress Test?

You will do the test in a hospital or clinic, and a healthcare provider will check your blood pressure and heart rate before and after the test. You may also have an electrocardiogram (EKG) before and during the test.

You will exercise on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike during the test. The speed and incline of the treadmill will be increased every 3 minutes. You will continue exercising until your heart rate reaches a certain level, you have symptoms, or your blood pressure becomes too high.

After the test, you will rest for 5 to 10 minutes, and the health professional will check your heart rate and blood pressure again.

How Long Does a Stress Test Take?

The whole test takes about 30 to 60 minutes, including time to prepare for the test and rest afterward.

What are the Risks of a Cardiac Stress Test?

There are very few risks associated with this test. Rarely do people have chest pain, irregular heartbeats, or heart attacks during or after the test.

In most cases, these events are caused by coronary artery disease and would have happened even if you hadn’t had the test.

You may feel lightheaded, dizzy, or nauseous during or after the test. You may also have muscle aches from exercising, but these symptoms should go away quickly.

If you have any concerns about the risks of the test, talk to your healthcare provider.

What Do the Results of a Stress Test Mean?

Your test results will show how well your heart and blood vessels work. They can also help your healthcare provider find out if you have CAD.

The results may be normal, or they may show that you have:

  • CAD that’s mild, moderate, or severe
  • Heart failure
  • An arrhythmia

Your test results can also show how well your heart and blood vessels respond to exercise, and this information can help your healthcare provider plan your treatment.

Can a Stress Test Show Blockage in Your Arteries?

A stress test can show a decrease in blood flow to your heart muscle during exercise, and blockages in your coronary arteries may cause this. The test can also show how well your heart and blood vessels work.

Conclusion

A cardiac stress step test is a safe and easy way to determine if you have CAD. Preparing for your test and understanding the results can help you and your doctor make informed decisions about your treatment.

Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about the test.

Adesola Adegun is a medical doctor. She studied Medicine at Northern State Medical University, Arkhangelsk, Russia. She loves to share simple tips to help people stay healthy, fit, and happy! In her leisure time, she loves to read, write, cook, and travel!