If your heart problems occur most often during exercise, your doctor may ask you to walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike during an ECG. This is called a stress test (pictured above) and it is used to assess the response of your heart to increased demand for blood. If you have a medical condition that makes it difficult for you to walk, medication may be injected to stimulate your heart.
A stress test is very safe. Some patients may experience chest pain during the test. The risk of heart attack or abnormal heartbeat is extremely low. A doctor is present (either physically in the lab or in vicinity) during the test to ensure your safety.
What to Expect Before the Stress Test
Some preparation may be required on your part before you come in for the stress test.
You may be asked to stop certain medications a day before the test. Please confirm this with your doctor.
On the day of the test, take a light meal before the test.
Please bring comfortable shoes (preferably running shoes) and wear loose fitting clothes. Male patients may need to shave the chest so that ECG electrodes can be attached.
If you have a fever or a feeling unwell please inform the staff, so that the doctor can assess you before the test.
What to Expect During the Stress Test
Once you start walking on the treadmill, your blood pressure, heart rate, general condition and ECG will be monitored continuously. After every three minutes, the speed and slope of the treadmill will be increased. You will be encouraged to exercise for as long as you can and the test will continue until you reach a desired heart rate or cannot exercise any more (usually 10-15 minutes).
What to Expect After the Stress Test
After the test, you will be asked to rest while your blood pressure and ECG are recorded. You will rest until you reach the baseline heart rate. A cardiologist analyzes all the recordings and the results are made available in a few days. Your doctor will look for a consistent, even heart rhythm and a heart rate between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Variations provide important information about your heart's health, including:
- Heart rate: Normally, heart rate can be measured by checking your pulse. However, an ECG may be helpful if your pulse is difficult to feel or too fast or too irregular to count accurately.
- Heart rhythm: An ECG can help your doctor identify an unusually fast heartbeat (tachycardia), unusually slow heartbeat (bradycardia) or other irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias). These conditions may occur when any part of the heart's electrical system malfunctions. In other cases, medication can trigger arrhythmias.
- Heart attack: An ECG can often show evidence of a previous heart attack or one that is in progress. The patterns on the ECG may indicate which part of your heart has been damaged, as well as the general extent of the damage.
- Inadequate blood and oxygen supply to the heart: An ECG can often help your doctor determine whether chest pain is caused by reduced blood flow to the heart muscle, a prime characteristic of coronary artery disease.
- Structural abnormalities: An ECG can provide clues about enlargement or inflammation of the heart, congenital abnormalities and various other heart problems.
No follow-up is necessary after a stress test.