Stress tests allow doctors to determine how well your heart handles its overall workload. Sometimes called a “treadmill test,” your body will work harder which requires more fuel and your heart has to pump more blood. The test can show doctors if there is a lack of blood supply through the arteries that go to the heart.
Taking a stress test also helps doctors know the kind and level of physical activity that is best for you.
According to the American Heart Association, the main reasons doctors may recommend a stress test are:
- If you have an irregular heartbeat.
- If your symptoms (such as chest pain or difficulty breathing) are related to your heart.
- How hard you should exercise if you are joining a cardiac rehabilitation program or just starting an exercise program for the first time.
- If treatments you have received for heart disease are working.
- If you need further testing to detect narrowing of the arteries.
During a stress test, you will be hooked up to equipment that will monitor your heart. You will begin walking slowly in place on a treadmill. After a bit of time, the treadmill will tilt so you feel like you are going up a small hill; and the treadmill will change speed to make you walk faster. Some patients will be asked to breathe into a tube for a couple of minutes – depending on what your doctor is looking for in your particular situation.
You will be told by your doctor that you can stop the test at any time if you need to. Finally, after slowing down for a few minutes, you will sit or lie down and your heart and blood pressure will be checked.
So, what is the doctor monitoring during the test? The following are his or her main focus:
- Your heart rate
- Your breathing
- Your blood pressure
- Your electrocardiogram (which is read through the monitor hooked up to you during the test)
- How tired you feel during the test
Bottom line, while the word “stress” is in the test, don’t you stress! The procedure takes a short amount of time, and medical professionals are with you every step of the way. In the long run, the stress test allows your physician to learn more about your heart and use it as a diagnostic tool to develop a plan for a healthier tomorrow.