What is an exercise stress test?
What does a stress test show?
This test measures –
- How effectively your heart pumps blood
- If your heart is receiving enough blood or if there are any blockages
- What intensity of exercise is safe for you to do
- How severe your heart condition is
- How well your heart treatment is working
- If you’re at an increased risk of heart disease
- Blood pressure changes in response to exercise in patients with borderline hypertension
Why do I need a stress test?
Your doctor may ask you to undergo this test in case –
- You’re experiencing symptoms of heart disease, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations, dizziness etc.
- You have a history of heart disease
- You have been diagnosed with a heart condition and your doctors want to check how well your treatment is working
- You’ve recently had heart surgery
What are the types of stress tests?
Stress tests can be of the following types –
- Exercise stress test: In this, you will be asked to walk on a treadmill as an ECG records your heart activity
- Nuclear stress test: In this, you’ll be injected with a radiopaque dye through an IV line that will allow your doctor to visualise your heart as you walk on the treadmill
- Stress echocardiography: This combines the treadmill stress test with echocardiography to capture dynamic motions of your heart
What happens before a stress test?
Your doctor will take a complete medical history which includes the frequency and intensity of your exercise. You can ask them any questions you have at this time. Some instructions for your test include –
- Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes and shoes
- Don’t eat or drink coffee, tea etc. 3 hours prior to the test
- Don’t smoke before the test
- Disclose all medicines you regularly take including any over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbal supplements and ayurvedic and homoeopathic medicines. Based on your doctor’s recommendation, you may have to stop taking some of them prior to your test
- Report any kind of symptoms that you may experience on the day of the test, such as chest pain, palpitations etc.
What happens during a stress test?
During your test –
- You’re taken to the exercise laboratory and your resting heart rate and blood pressure are recorded
- You’ll have to remove all your clothes and valuables and wear a hospital gown
Small electrodes will be attached to your chest, shoulders and hips and connected to the ECG
- You’ll be asked to slowly walk on a treadmill. The speed and inclination of the treadmill are increased every few minutes according to a pre-programmed protocol until you achieve the target heart rate (based on age, sex and fitness levels)
- Once you reach the target heart rate, you’ll be asked to continue walking while your heart function gets recorded
- In case you experience any difficulties, you can ask to stop the test
- After the test, your vitals are monitored until they return to your normal resting state
How long does the test take?
What happens after the test?
There are generally no side effects once you return to your normal resting state. You may experience slight muscle soreness in case you’re not used to exercising. In case you have any of the following symptoms, visit your doctor immediately –
- Constricting or squeezing type of chest pain, that is radiating to your arm, jaw, neck or shoulders
- Light-headedness or fainting
Are there any risks to the test?
What if I am unable to exercise?
When will I get the test results?
Who should not have cardiac stress testing?
You should not undergo this test if –
- You’ve experienced a heart attack in the past 2 days
- You have heart failure
- You have unstable angina
- You have uncontrolled arrhythmia
- You have severe aortic stenosis
- You have acute aortic dissection