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What Is A Stress Test and What Does It Show?

With the hectic pace of modern living, when someone mentions a stress test you might be forgiven for believing you will be evaluated for how well you handle the stresses of daily life. However, that is not the purpose of a cardiac stress test. Rather, a cardiac stress test applies physical strain and stress to the heart to see how it reacts as it pumps harder and faster. You might be interested to know, however, that how your heart reacts under physical stress is also related to how your heart may react under emotional stress, which can also increase rhythm and blood pressure significantly.

When you come in for a stress test, it is usually performed on a treadmill or stationary bicycle. You will be hooked up to a number of diagnostic machines that will measure breathing, blood pressure and heart rhythm. If you are not able to perform physical exercise, there are medications that can mimic the effects of a physical stress test.

But Why Do I Need a Stress Test?

A stress test is not a routine diagnostic procedure. If one has been ordered, it is likely that your cardiologist has seen something abnormal that requires further evaluation. This certainly does not mean that what you have a serious, it simply means that it needs more attention. A stress test can be used to diagnose coronary artery disease and assess the health of major blood vessels in the body. If blockages are forming due to plaque buildup, an intervention may be necessary to prevent a heart attack. A stress test may also be used to bring on abnormal heart rhythm, also known as arrhythmia. The most common of these is atrial fibrillation or AFib. We may be able to determine if you are suffering from an abnormally fast or slow heartbeat. Lastly, a stress test may give your cardiologist important information on when a heart procedure should be pursued.

So, What is a Nuclear Stress Test?

A nuclear stress test is next level diagnostic imaging that we may need if the standard stress test has not been successful in pinpointing the problem at hand. Nuclear stress testing involves the use of radioactive dye to accurately monitor the blood is flowing through the cardiovascular system. Imaging will be taken before you exercise and after you have exerted yourself. Once again, you will likely be on a treadmill or a stationary bicycle.

A nuclear stress test offers a great deal of information including whether or not blood flow is normal at rest and when exercising. If blood flow is somehow compromised, coronary artery disease may be suspected. If no radioactive dye is found in certain parts of the heart, this is often a sign of a previous heart attack that you may not even know you had.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, a stress test is a very useful and important diagnostic tool to uncover heart disease or assess the risk of future heart problems. If your cardiologist has ordered a stress test, please follow their instructions closely as it could be a lifesaver. About your stress test, we encourage you to speak to your cardiologist who will be able to answer specific details about your heart and why the test is necessary.

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