An exercise stress test, sometimes simply called a stress test, is a test designed to show how physical activity affects how your heart works. Since physical activity causes your heart to pump blood faster and harder, this test can diagnose such heart-related medical conditions as arrhythmias and coronary artery disease. Today, our cardiovascular experts at Cardiac Associates of North Jersey in Oakland, NJ discuss what to expect during and before stress testing.
What Is Involved in Stress Testing for Heart Disease?
Treadmill Stress Test
Before a treadmill stress begins, your technician will place electrodes on your arms, legs and chest. We may need to shave these areas to help the electrodes stick to the skin. These electrodes are connected to an electrocardiogram machine by wires; the electrocardiogram allows us to record the electrical impulses that cause your heart to beat. Your technician will also place a cuff on your arm to measure your blood pressure during the test.
Oxygen monitoring may also be required. Your treadmill stress test will start off slowly but the intensity of the exercises will increase incrementally. You may use the handrails of the treadmill to balance but make sure you hold these gently if you must hold them. If you grip them too tightly, the results of your test may be affected.
Echo Stress Test
An echo stress test, sometimes referred to as a stress echo or echocardiography stress test, combines the treadmill stress test and an echocardiogram. Before the treadmill portion of the test, we will take an echocardiogram while you are at rest so we can get a baseline of how well your heart is functioning. Once we have a baseline, we will start the treadmill test with a few minutes of slow walking.
After three minutes have passed, we will increase the intensity of the exercise to evaluate how your heart responds to increased stress. Depending on your age and level of fitness, you may need to walk quickly or walk uphill for five to 15 minutes. The echocardiogram will continue to capture images of your heart throughout the test, including when your pulse increases and when it peaks.
Nuclear Stress Test
During a nuclear stress test, a radioactive dye will be injected into your vein. We can diagnose heart disease and other heart conditions with a nuclear stress test by using a gamma-ray camera that takes pictures of your heart, including the size of your arteries and how your blood flows through your heart. Just like during the exercise, you will have electrodes attached to your skin and wires that connect them to an electrocardiogram.
Your first injection of the radioactive dye will occur after the treadmill portion of your stress test. Once the dye is injected, you will lie on the examination table so the gamma-ray camera can take pictures of your heart. You can leave after these pictures have been taken but three to four hours later you must return for follow-up pictures so we can see how your blood flows when you are at rest.
How Should I Prepare for This Test?
To prepare for stress testing, avoid caffeine during the 24 hours leading up to your test. You should also let us know during your initial consultation if you have breathing problems, such as asthma, and need an inhaler. You are allowed to bring an inhaler to your test. Furthermore, you should not eat or drink anything but water for the four hours leading up to your test.
Do your best to avoid smoking in the 24 hours preceding your test. Finally, wear walking shoes and comfy clothes on the day of your test. If you are having a nuclear stress test, do not apply any moisturizing cream or lotion to your skin.
Is a Stress Test Safe?
Stress tests are perfectly safe. We monitor your pulse and blood pressure throughout the exercise portion of the test and will monitor your lung function if necessary. You are also free to use an inhaler if you experience asthma or another breathing disorder. Furthermore, we will stop the exercise portion of the stress test if any of the following occur as we are monitoring you:
- An abnormal heart rhythm
- Abnormally high blood pressure
- Dangerously low blood pressure
- Specific changes in your electrocardiogram
You are also free to stop the test of your own volition if you experience certain things that we can’t measure with our diagnostic tools. For example, you can let us know if you are experiencing moderate-to-severe chest pain, dizziness or fatigue. You may also stop the test if you feel short of breath and don’t want to continue the test.
Learn More Today
If you have are at risk of heart disease, stress testing is an incredibly valuable tool for you. The sooner you diagnose heart disease, the sooner you can take steps to treat your medical condition with pharmaceuticals and lifestyle changes. Contact us today at Cardiac Associates of North Jersey in Oakland, NJ to learn more about which stress test is appropriate for you, how to prepare for the test and what to expect during the test.