you should know
A cardiac stress test helps doctors see how well
your heart can cope during exercise, when the body's need for oxygen
puts extra demands on the heart. Other names for this test are: graded
exercise test, exercise tolerance test, exercise stress test, or
exercise electrocardiography (e-LEK-tro-KAR-dee-AH-gruh-fee).
Reasons For the
Doctors order cardiac stress tests for a variety
of purposes. The test helps them:
|Determine whether coronary arteries are clogged.
|Find the cause of chest pain.
|Assess the heart's capability after a heart attack
or heart surgery.
|Discover heart disease.
|Set limits on your exercise.
|Detect extra heartbeats (also called arrhythmias
[ah-RITH-me-uhs]), during exercise.
|Judge a medicine's capacity to control chest pain
or extra beats during exercise.|
Although stress tests are usually uneventful, problems do occasionally
occur. Your blood pressure could fall, causing you to feel lightheaded,
or your heart could lapse into arrhythmias. You could even develop chest
pain or have a potentially fatal heart attack or stroke. Fortunately,
these are all rare occurrences, and you will be watched very closely
during the test.
If You're Heading For Your Doctor's Office, A Clinic,
Or The Hospital...
Before You Go
|Do not eat, drink alcohol, or smoke for 4 hours
before the test.|
When You Arrive
|Wear loose clothes suitable for exercise, such as
lightweight pants or shorts and a shirt. Wear socks and footwear
with rubber soles, such as walking, jogging, or tennis shoes.|
What to Expect While You're There
You may encounter the following procedures and equipment during your
|Taking Vital Signs: These include your temperature,
blood pressure, pulse (counting your heartbeats), and respirations
(counting your breaths). A stethoscope is used to listen to your
heart and lungs. Your blood pressure is taken by wrapping a cuff
around your arm. The staff will take your vital signs before you
begin exercising, several times during the test, and after you
|Electrocardiogram (EKG): While you exercise, a
number of sticky pads called electrodes will connect you to a
machine that makes tracings of the activity in different parts of
your heart. You may also be hooked up to a heart monitor, which
traces the heartbeat on a TV-like screen.|
During the Test
|You will be asked to take off your shirt. Women
need not remove their bra, and can wear a gown if they wish. To help
the electrodes stick to the skin, hair on parts of your chest or
back may need to be shaved. These areas will also be cleansed to
remove natural oils. Once the electrodes are in place, you will not
feel any electric current from them, although the skin underneath
them may itch.
|You'll be asked to exercise on a stationary
bicycle, a motorized treadmill (a machine on which you can walk or
jog), or an arm ergometer (a machine you pedal with your hands). The
staff will show you how to use the machine.
|Start exercising slowly. If you use a treadmill,
the speed and slope may be slowly increased. If you are using a
bicycle, the seat and handlebars will be raised or made shorter for
you. Do not grip the handlebars tightly. Just use them to balance
yourself. Your doctor may slowly increase the force needed to push
the pedals. The test will not hurt, but may tire you out.
|A doctor will watch you during this test. Alert him
immediately if you start getting tired, have trouble breathing, or
develop chest pain.
|When you reach your target heart rate, you will be
asked to slow down. Do not stop until the doctor tells you.
|After the test, you can get off the exercise
machine and sit down. Your vital signs and heart readings will be
taken again during the next 10 to 15 minutes.|
After You Leave
|You feel light-headed or think you are going to
This is an emergency. Call 911 or 0 (operator) to
get to the nearest hospital or clinic. Do not drive yourself!
|You have trouble breathing.
|You have signs of a heart attack:
|Chest pain that spreads to your arms, jaw, or