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What Is The Stress Test? What To Expect And Why It Matters

What Is The Stress Test? What To Expect And Why It Matters

Max Lab

Apr 05, 2024

Heart diseases are the most common cause of death, affecting children, men, and women of all ages. In fact, more than 27% of deaths in India were caused by some kind of heart disease, making it more important than ever to take care of your heart health. But how do you know how well your heart is functioning? That’s where a stress test comes into play.

A cardiac stress test can help provide valuable insights into your heart's ability to withstand stress and exercise, helping to identify any underlying cardiovascular issues such as coronary artery disease or arrhythmias.

So, whether you're a fitness enthusiast or someone with concerns about heart health, understanding the intricacies of this test can be quite helpful.

Here is everything you need to know about stress test cardiology:

What is the Stress Test?

A stress test, also known as a cardiac stress test is performed to monitor how well a patient’s heart functions while they are put under external stress in a controlled clinical setting.. The test usually involves physical activities such as walking or running on a treadmill or riding a bicycle while the doctor monitors heart vitals.

For those who can not do physical activity, such as those with arthritis, a doctor may give a medicine that provides the effect of exercising, making their heart work harder.

There are different types of stress tests, all of which are used to monitor:

  • Blood pressure
  • Breathing
  • Blood flow in the heart
  • Rate and rhythm of heartbeat
  • The strength of electric signals that control the heart

Types of Stress Tests

  • Exercise Stress Test

An exercise stress test, also known as a treadmill stress test, is performed by letting the patient run or walk on the treadmill or pedal on a bicycle while connected to an electrocardiogram (ECG) machine. An electrocardiogram (ECG) machine helps measure the heart’s electrical activity.

  • Nuclear Stress Test

In the nuclear stress test, a radioactive substance is injected into the patient’s bloodstream. The substance, also known as tracer, is absorbed by the patient’s bloodstream, helping create images of the heart and blood flow.

The doctor takes pictures of the heart before and after the exercise, comparing the amount of blood flow to the heart muscle while at rest and after the physical activity. After the test is completed, the radioactive substance naturally leaves the patient's body through urine.

  • Echocardiogram Stress Test:

An Echocardiogram stress test, also known as an echo stress test, is similar to the treadmill stress test, but it also involves an Echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart). An Echocardiogram is performed on the patient before and at the peak of the exercise.

The echo stress test helps evaluate blood flow through the heart, heart muscles, and the functioning of a heart valve.

This stress test procedure typically involves lying the patient on their left side to use the ultrasound device on the chest. The second set of ultrasounds will be done after the patient completes the exercise. In the case of bicycles, the sonographer may perform an ultrasound while the patient is paddling.

Who should get a Stress Test?

Some of the common signs that show you need a stress test include heart diseases such as:

  1. Coronary diseases, a condition where plaque buildup in the coronary arteries restricts blood flow to the heart muscle, potentially leading to serious complications like heart attacks
  2. Heart rhythm problem, also known as arrhythmia, causes the heart to beat too fast or too slow.
  3. Dyspnea or shortness of breath, a feeling that you can’t get enough air into your lungs
  4. Feeling lightheaded or dizzy

These tests can also be prescribed by the doctor in the following scenarios:

  • When someone is undergoing treatment for any heart disease. The test can help doctors understand how well a treatment is working and identify the best treatment for the patient.
  • Before surgeries like heart transplants or valve replacements, the test can assist in assessing the patient's readiness for surgery and ensuring safety.
  • In cases where there is a personal or family history of heart disease
  • For people who have other underlying conditions, such as diabetes, that can cause heart disease.
  • When a patient with heart disease is considering starting an exercise program.

What to expect during the Stress Test

Before the test, the doctor may give you tips and measures, such as not drinking coffee or taking any medication, to help you prepare for the test.

The treadmill stress test procedure usually includes the following steps:

  1. The doctor will attach electrode patches to the patient’s chest. This electrode will help monitor and record the heart’s activity during the test.
  2. Next, the patient will be asked to exercise on a treadmill or a bicycle, starting at a normal pace and gradually increasing the difficulty.
  3. Throughout the test, the doctor will monitor the patient’s heart activity, such as blood pressure, heart rate, and ECG readings.
  4. The exercise will continue until the patient’s heart rate reaches a target level, usually lasting 10 to 15 minutes.

The patient may need to stop the exercise if they experience symptoms such as:

In conclusion, a cardiology stress test can be a very useful tool in determining how someone’s heart is functioning and in diagnosing various heart diseases. The test can an idea about how much strain someone’s heart can take, helping those planning heart surgery or starting a new exercise program. If you suspect any signs that you need a stress test, consult a healthcare professional promptly to undergo the necessary evaluations and initiate the test.

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