What is a Stress Test?
A stress test is a procedure that uses either exercise or pharmacologic stress and simultaneous ECG to evaluate your heartís response to stress. The most common reasons your doctor may recommend a stress test are to rule out Coronary Artery Disease (blockages in the arteries of the heart), because of chest pain, shortness of breath, abnormal electrocardiogram (ECG) or arrhythmias (irregular heart beats).
Preparation for Exercise Stress Test
Before you arrive: If your test is scheduled for morning, you may eat a light breakfast. If your test is scheduled for the afternoon you may eat a regular breakfast and a light lunch. DO NOT drink caffeinated beverages the day of your test (including coffee, soda, or tea). It is important that you drink fluids, with the exception of caffeine, the day of your test (juice, milk, water). You will be asked to wear comfortable clothing and shoes appropriate for exercise (you may wear these to the appointment or change into them once you arrive).
Upon arrival: The technician preparing you for the test will ask questions regarding your symptoms, your ability to walk on the treadmill, and about any medications you take. The technician will prepare the skin on your chest for electrode placement by slightly abrading the skin with a pad. This may feel "scratchy" during the abrading and may tingle after the electrodes are applied. The electrodes, which are connected to an ECG machine, will then be placed on your chest to monitor your heartbeat while you are walking on the treadmill. You will have a blood pressure cuff put on your arm, and you will also continue to wear the blood pressure cuff while walking on the treadmill.
What Happens During a StressTest?
A physician will monitor the treadmill/exercise portion of the test. The treadmill is programmed to increase in speed and grade (incline) every 1 to 3 minutes, depending on the program chosen by the physician. You will need to walk for as long as possible, as a certain minimum heart rate must be reached in order for the test to be valid (your age determines the heart rate that needs to be achieved). You will need to tell the technician or physician if you are experiencing any symptoms or having any problems during the test.
When the physician decides to stop the test, the technician will decrease the speed and incline of the treadmill slowly. You will continue to walk at a slow pace for a few minutes to cool down. After this cool-down walk, you will sit down, and your heart rate and blood pressure will continue to be monitored until they have returned to a level acceptable to the physician. At this point, the electrodes and blood pressure cuff will be removed.
Your stress test will take approximately 1 hour including preparation time and monitoring after the test. You may then resume your normal daily activities.
If you are unable to walk on the treadmill and reach the target heart rate, your physician may use a medication to simulate the effect of exercise on your heart (pharmacological stress test). If your doctor has ordered this type of test, an IV will be started in your arm and in addition to the stress part an imaging nodality will also be applied.
Note: Please arrive 5-10 minutes prior to your scheduled time to register and sign a consent form. As with any appointment, it is important that you bring a list of your current medications with you. Please be sure to bring your insurance card(s) with you and a referral if your insurance company requires one.
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