A Complete Guide To Cardiac Stress Testing
Cardiac stress testing can determine whether or not a person has heart disease or is likely to have heart problems in the future. Patients who have experienced chest pain, difficulty breathing, heart palpitations or fainting spells when exerting themselves should undergo cardiac stress testing. Cardiac stress tests can also be performed as part of a normal screening program or post-operative for some patients who have had heart issues in the past.
Cardiac stress testing is invaluable in diagnosing symptoms such as chest pain, especially in portions of the population for which heart disease is most common – such as older men. Though no medical test is 100% accurate, cardiac stress tests can offer a more complete picture of the patient’s heart health and show a way forward in terms of treatment.
Who should have a cardiac stress test?
Patients who have had symptoms of limited blood flow to their hearts will typically be recommended for cardiac stress testing. These patients include those who have experienced:
• Heart attack
• Percutaneous coronary intervention
• Coronary artery bypass grafting
• Recent CHD diagnosis
• Patients who faint during exercise
What happens during a cardiac stress test?
During a stress test, the patient walks on a treadmill that is programmed to progressively make the heart work harder. The heart’s electrical rhythms are monitored by an electrocardiogram (EKG) machine that is connected at different points with sticky pads placed on the skin. The EKG will record the heart’s electrical activity, showing the heart’s rhythm and rapidity as well as the strength and timing of the electrical signals sent as they pass through the heart.
The doctor or technician also monitors any symptoms that the patient has during the test as well as blood pressure and other vital signs. You may also have to breathe into a special tube that monitors the gases you exhale. The physician will learn how much physical effort the patient’s heart can manage before any abnormalities begin.
Problems during the stress test that indicate an issue with the heart not getting sufficient blood during exertion can include:
• Changes in blood pressure or heart rate
• Shortness of breath
• Chest pains
• Abnormal electrical activity or rhythm changes
If, during the test, the patient is unable to keep up with a pace that is considered normal for their age, it may be an indication of CHD, or coronary heart disease. The patient may discontinue the exercise when it becomes too physically exertive for them.
An alternative test exists for patients who cannot exercise, in which medication is injected into the bloodstream to increase the blood flow and rhythm of the heart as if they were physically exerting themselves. The stress test is then performed using the monitoring methods described above. The patient will also be surveyed with regard to how they are feeling and if there are any pains in the chest area, shortness of breath or dizzy feelings. After the monitoring is over, the medication will eventually wear off over 15 minutes or so.
What should patients do to prepare for the cardiac stress test?
Patients will be advised to wear shoes and clothes that are easy to exercise in comfortably, but occasionally patients will be issued a gown to wear. Fasting is required for some patients, but diabetics should check with their physician on adjustment of medications if fasting is required. Caution should be used on consuming caffeinated beverages the day before a cardiac stress test as well as taking certain medications, both prescription and non-prescription. Your physician will alert you to any foods, drinks or medications that should be avoided in order to give a more accurate test.
Are there risks in having a cardiac stress test?
As the cardiac stress test is conducted in a hospital setting with trained medical professionals, there is very little risk of serious complications. The risk of the cardiac stress test causing a heart attack or death is very small, but less serious side effects have been linked to the test such as:
• Irregular heart rhythm or arrhythmia, which may become prolonged
• Low blood pressure, which typically disappears after the test
• Discomfort or agitation with chemical tests, which goes away after the medication wears off
What will the cardiac stress test show?
During a cardiac stress test, the physician will learn how the patient’s heart operates during physical stress, which indicates how healthy the heart actually is. Through the EKG readings, the physician will develop a picture of how the heart’s valves operate and the movement of the heart muscle itself. This information is all used to determine how much blood flow the heart is getting during physical stress. Abnormal test results often indicate that the patient has coronary heart disease or CHD. Other patients may have poor physical fitness which doesn’t necessarily mean they also have CHD.
A cardiac stress test can offer extremely useful information and data to determine if a patient has CHD, coronary heart disease. The test involves physical activity in order to make the heart work and display its operation during physical exertion. This display, through electrocardiogram monitoring and other devices, will offer a picture to the physician of the operation of the patient’s heart as it responds to physical activity. Once a patient’s symptoms and test results are analyzed, a complete treatment plan or further testing can be recommended in order to offer the patient the best chance at good health and longevity.