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Stress Test Examines Your Heart at Work

When you visit your doctors office, youre usually examined under calm, clinical conditions. While this can give satisfactory test results for some conditions, others require examination under more rigorous conditions. The cardiac stress test gathers information concerning how your heart is performing when you exert yourself as you would in everyday life. This test provides physicians with critical information concerning potential heart disease and information on the progress of current treatment efforts.

Stress tests are performed by doctors and professional medical technicians and are typically done to find out how much stress the patients heart can tolerate before developing an abnormal rhythm or signs of inadequate blood flow to the heart muscle.

About 3.8 million cardiac stress tests are performed each year, with exercise stress tests using treadmills or bicycles being the most common. Medical Device Depot Inc. provides many of these devices to physicians, and is a reliable company with quality products physicians and their patients can depend upon.

How the Test Works

During your test, a nurse will insert an IV and will also attach EKG leads to your chest, legs and arms. A cuff will be attached to your arm to monitor blood pressure and you may also be asked to breath into a tube. Some radiopharmaceutical compounds will be injected into your IV and ten minutes later imaging equipment will take pictures of your heart in a resting state. It will take about a quarter of an hour to take these pictures.

After the resting pictures are taken, the stress test will begin. Some additional radiopharmaceuticals may be injected into your IV. Youll then begin walking slowly on the treadmill. As the test progresses, the technicians running the test will increase the speed and incline of the treadmill. Patients can use the railing to help maintain their balance, but should refrain from hanging on tightly as it can throw off the test results.

You will continue to walk or run the treadmill until their heart rate hits a target set by doctors or you patient is unable to continue.

During the test, your doctor or a technician will monitor your heart rate, your breathing, how tired you feel, your blood pressure and your electrocardiogram results.

The test provides your physician with several pieces of relevant information, including:

  • Whether your heart is getting adequate blood flow.
  • How well any medications you are taking are controlling angina or ischemia.
  • How likely you are to develop coronary heart disease and whether further tests are warranted.
  • How effective treatments to improve blood flow are doing for patients with coronary heart disease.
  • Whether you have abnormal heart rhythms.
  • Whether your heart valves are working properly.
  • Facts needed to help you and your doctor devise a safe exercise regimen.

Once you stop exercising, your doctor will ask you to remain still for a short period of time and then lie down for a few minutes so monitoring can continue as your heart rate decreases to its resting rate. When the test is finished, you may go about your normal daily activities.

If the information your doctor gathers during the test reveals that your heart is functioning normally, no further testing may be needed. However, if you continue to exhibit symptoms afterward, your doctor may call for a nuclear stress test or a more thorough stress test. These tests are more accurate, but they are also much more expensive.

Should your stress test reveal that you have coronary heart disease or that you have irregular heartbeats, your doctor may call for further testing, such as a coronary angiogram. The doctor will also devise a treatment plan.


Like any medical procedure, this form of testing carries some risks to patient health. Doctors will only assign the test if they feel your individual health circumstances pose small risk of adverse reactions or if the benefits of the information gleaned from the test far exceed the risks.

Possible complications of a stress test include:

  • Low blood pressure that may cause dizziness or fainting.
  • Abnormal heart rhythms that may be caused by the test.
  • Heart attack

Should an adverse reaction to a stress test occur, medical staff will be on hand to handle it immediately, a far better situation than if one of these reactions occurred when you are exerting yourself in your day-to-day life outside the doctors office.

Getting Ready for the Stress Test

The stress test will require some preparation by the patient prior to the procedure. In general, physicians ask patients undergoing a stress test to:

  • Avoid eating anything four to six hours before the test.
  • Avoid smoking for two hours before the test.
  • Consult with your doctor concerning what medicines you should take on the morning of the test.
  • Avoid caffeine and chocolate for 12 hours before the test.
  • Bring a snack for the test, as it takes four hours or so.
  • Wear comfortable clothing and sneakers for the test.

About Heart Disease

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the U.S., killing about 600,000 people each year or about a quarter of all deaths in America. Coronary heart disease alone costs the country more than $108 billion each year in health care services and lost wages. Heart disease impacts men more frequently than women more than half of all heart disease sufferers are male. The death rate from heart disease is highest in the South and least common in the West.

Because of the risk associated with heart disease and its prevalence, following doctors orders regarding testing is highly recommended, particularly for middle aged men and women. While taking a stress test isnt likely to be your favorite way to spend a morning or afternoon, the information gleaned from this test can provide a critical early warning for potential heart problems or an important guidepost for your treatment. By taking the test and complying with your physicians requests before and after the procedure, you can enhance your quality of life and avoid serious illness.