A stress test is an examination that determines the degree of stress the heart can endure before developing an abnormal rhythm or lacking enough blood to function properly. During a stress test, one may exercise at increasing levels of rigor while heart rate, blood pressure, and an electrocardiogram are monitored to determine how the heart responds.
What is it?
A stress test or cardiac stress test is a test that requires a patient to walk on a treadmill while his or her cardiac function is monitored to measure the heart’s ability to handle a given workload. The test provides information on how well the heart is receiving and pumping blood to determine if there is a blockage causing an inefficient flow of blood. There are several reasons why someone may require a stress test, such as experiencing an irregular heartbeat, chest pain, or difficulty breathing, as well as beginning a cardiac exercise program, or recovering from a prior heart problem.
What should I do to prepare?
A stress test is performed while a patient uses a treadmill under controlled settings, connected to an electrocardiogram. To prepare, patients must refrain from eating, drinking, and smoking from 2-4 hours before the test. However, the patient may still drink water. Patients should also refrain from consuming caffeine within 24 hours of the test, and should consult with their doctor about stopping select medications. Comfortable clothes and shoes for exercise should be worn.
What happens during the process?
During a stress test, a patient is connected to diagnostic equipment to monitor his or her heart levels throughout the exam. The patient then starts to walk slowly in place on a treadmill, and the treadmill tilts up to simulate walking uphill. The treadmill then changes speed to make the patient walk faster. He or she may be asked to breathe into a tube for a few minutes. This method allows the doctor to monitor the air the patient is breathing and determine the efficiency of breathing. The treadmill then gradually slows to a stop as the patient’s heart, and blood pressure is checked while he or she is lying down.
What are the risks and potential complications?
There is very little risk involved, as the test is no different than walking or jogging up a hill. Medical personnel are nearby during the test in case of any troubles. The patient may also stop the test at any time. Some complications may present during this low-risk assessment, including low blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia), or, very rarely, a heart attack. These complications may occur during the test or upon completion of the exercise but remain unlikely.
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