What is a Stress Test, and Why do I Need One?

Heart disease is one of the most common and most serious conditions facing our nation today. One of the most dangerous components to heart disease is that it can often advance with few, if any, symptoms until it becomes a problem that is difficult to treat. Because of the concerns about heart disease today, health care professionals are always looking for screening measures that can help to indicate a person's risk for this condition.

And one of the screening tests that can be highly effective in revealing potential problems is a stress test. This test is a non-invasive screening procedure that can tell your doctor how efficiently your heart is pumping blood, by showing how your heart performs during exertion. A stress test can be used as a predictor of a person's precondition towards heart disease and other heart problems, and can also help to determine the safest level of exercise for someone who is just beginning a regular exercise program.

How is it Done?

The day of your stress test, you will be asked to wear comfortable clothing and good walking shoes, since you will be active during your test. If you are currently on medications for a heart condition or diabetes, your doctor may or may not want you to avoid taking your prescription the day before or the day of the test. It is also a good idea to avoid any foods or beverages containing caffeine on the day of the stress test, since this can affect the results. You should also bring an inhaler with you, if this is something that you use regularly to assist with your breathing.

Once you arrive at your stress test, you will be hooked up to an electrocardiograph monitor (EKG or ECG). This device will chart the activity of your heart throughout the test. You will probably then be asked to begin walking on a treadmill or pedaling a stationary bicycle. The idea is that you will exercise to the point of exhaustion, and your heart will be monitored throughout to see how well it performs under the exertion. If you begin to feel any symptoms like dizziness, pain or shortness of breath, you will need to let the technician know right away. Otherwise, the technician monitoring your test will be able to see whether your heart is handling the stress appropriately.

Depending on the results from your stress test, your doctor may decide to prescribe other types of testing, or make a diagnosis and treatment plan at that point. The important thing to remember is that if your doctor prescribes certain procedures like a stress test to check your heart, you will need to complete these in a timely fashion. There are few things in life that are more important than keeping your heart healthy.