There are many things in life that can be stressful, from minor incidents such as sitting in snarled traffic to life-changing events like the death of a loved one. When people are under stress, their heart beats faster, blood pressure rises and breath quickens.
It’s normal to feel stressed from time to time. A stress test to check the size of your heart, how well the heart is pumping blood, or if the heart muscle is damaged, could potentially save your life.
A stress test is often done to help identify coronary artery disease (CAD), a condition that causes fatty material called plaque to build up in the arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to your heart. When the heart doesn’t get enough blood, you could have chest pain or problems catching your breath. If the artery is completely blocked, you may have a heart attack. Signs or symptoms of CAD may not appear when the heart is at rest. But by “stressing” the heart with exercise, abnormalities caused by partial blockages in the coronary arteries become more apparent.
There are several different types of stress tests. All tests require that you not eat or drink anything except water for four hours before the test and avoid caffeine for 12 hours. Take medicines as prescribed by your physician.
Before the test begins, electrodes for an electrocardiogram (EKG) are placed on your chest, arms and legs to monitor your heart’s electrical activity. You may be asked to breathe into a special tube to monitor the gases you exhale during the test.
A treadmill stress test involves walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bicycle until changes in the EKG show signs that your heart is not getting enough blood. Once you begin to exercise, the intensity or degree of difficulty gradually increases. Heart rate and vital signs are checked at regular intervals during the test, which takes about one hour from start to finish.
For a dobutamine or Adenosine stress test, a drug is given to make the heart respond as if the person were exercising. This type of test is used for people who cannot exercise.
A stress echocardiogram uses sound waves to accurately depict the motion of the heart’s walls and pumping action. Pictures of your heart are taken before you exercise and then again as soon as you finish.
During a nuclear stress test, a small amount of radioactive dye is injected into the bloodstream and a special camera is used to determine which parts of the heart are normal and which are not.
The dye is typically given about 30 minutes before you start exercising or take medicines to make your heart work hard. Pictures are taken of your heart when it is at rest and when it is working its hardest.
Stress tests are not done to screen for CAD. You typically have symptoms of the condition before a doctor recommends stress testing.
For more information about stress tests, talk with your doctor call (866) 358-4DOC (4362)
for a free referral to a cardiologist near you.