One of the most common cardiovascular testing methods, the stress test is sometimes known as the cardiovascular exercise stress test. Quite often, individuals suffering from some form of health issue affecting the heart, may not actually present with any symptoms until they perform some type of physical activity or experience an elevated heart rate. As a result, a stress test is a form of cardiovascular testing that allows us to analyze how the heart functions under times of stressful physical activity – often running or jogging on a treadmill. Because exercise makes your heart pump harder and faster, an exercise stress test can reveal problems with blood flow within your heart.
How Does a Stress Test Help Diagnostics?
Generally, a stress test will involve the patient either walking, jogging or even running on a treadmill or stationary bike, at which time vitals such as the heart’s rhythm, blood pressure, and breathing are being monitored. In some cases, patients have even been known to be given a drug that might mimic the effects of actual exercise without having to do any. Your doctor may recommend a stress test if you have signs or symptoms of coronary artery disease or an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia). The stress test will help by:
- Guiding treatment decisions.
- Diagnosing the severity of an existing heart condition.
- Allow you to determine how well the heart is working.
Why are Stress Tests Done?
There are several reasons why a cardiologist might recommend the use of a cardiovascular stress test, either in place of or in conjunction with other forms of testing.
- Diagnose Coronary Artery Disease: It’s important to understand that the coronary arteries are the major blood vessels that supply your 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).
- Diagnose Arrhythmias: an Arrhythmia occurs when the electrical signals which are supposed to coordinate with the heartbeat aren’t working properly. An arrhythmia can cause your heart to beat too fast, too slowly or irregularly.
- Check the Heart Prior to Surgery: This is a important as heart surgery can be quite stressful, and often in order to determine whether a patient is fit for surgery, cardiologists will perform a stress test beforehand to see h ow they react.
- Identify Treatment for Heart Issues: If you’ve already been diagnosed with a heart condition, an exercise stress test can help your doctor determine if your current treatment is working. The test results also help your doctor decide on the best treatment for you.
Preparing for Your Stress Test
For the most part, it’s important to listen to the directions provided to you by your doctor prior to your stress test. Here are some important things to know.
- Food, Drink, & Medications: Depending upon the specific directions from your cardiologist, he or she may ask you not to drink, eat or smoke for some period before the stress test. It is important to try and avoid any beverages that might contain caffeine, as well, for anywhere from 24-48 hours before the test, as this might cause issues with the readings and lead to inaccurate results or worse. Also, be sure to make your doctor aware of any medications or drugs you might be taking, whether they are prescription, OTC or otherwise. In addition, if you suffer from asthma, you should bring your inhaler or medication with you.
- Clothing: You will likely be sweating during the test, and performing somewhat strenuous physical activity – so it would be best to wear athletic clothing, such as a pair of shorts and tee-shirt or tank-top. You might have to perform the test without a shirt, and women might need a sports bra – depending on your comfort level – as there will likely need to be some types of nodes affixed to your chest area and/or stomach area. Also, maybe bring a change of clothes in case you sweat and comfortable athletic shoes or walking shoes.
- Before the Test: Our doctor will ask questions about your medical history and how often and at what level of intensity you exercise. This helps determine the amount of exercise that’s appropriate for you during the test. Your doctor will also listen to your heart and lungs for any health problems that might affect your test results.
During the Test: Patches or electrodes will be affixed to your chest area, arms, legs, and more to get accurate readings. In addition these areas might have to be shaved slightly to make way for he nodes. Wires connect the sensors to a computer, which records your heart’s electrical activity. A cuff on your arm checks your blood pressure during the test. You may be asked to breathe into a tube during the test to show how well you’re able to breathe during exercise. Depending on whether it’s a bike or treadmill, and your athletic level you will probably start at a slow pace and slowly turn things up a few notches.
Signs & Symptoms to Watch For
The fact is that the stress test is performed to stress the heart and body. However, often patients might experience issues sooner or later than others that might cause them to want to stop including things like:
- Shortness of Breath
- Chest Pains
- High or Low Blood Pressure
- Abnormal heart rhythm
- Changes to ECG Results
For more information on a stress test be sure to contact Dr. Kalafatic today.