Stethoscope on the Cardiogram

Stress Test

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A stress test also known as an exercise test or treadmill test can give an idea of how well a person’s heart works during physical activity and to help diagnose various heart conditions.

A stress test involves walking on a treadmill or using a stationary cycle while medical devices monitor blood pressure, heart rate, and heart rhythm.

A doctor may recommend a stress test if a person has symptoms that could indicate a heart condition, such as:

  • chest pain

  • dizziness

  • a fast or irregular heartbeat

A doctor may also recommend a stress test if a person:

  • is undergoing heart treatment

  • is due for some non-cardiac surgery to assess fitness of heart for that surgery

  • is considering starting a vigorous exercise program

  • is going for pre-employment heart fitness

Some factors the doctor will aim to measure include:

  • heart rate

  • ECG changes

  • blood pressure

  • how exercise affects fatigue levels

Types

Exercise stress test

During a stress test, the doctor will aim to determine the person’s heart rate, blood pressure, and how tired they feel during different levels of physical activity.

Here is a step-by-step description of what happens during a stress test using a treadmill:

  1. Having attached the devices to monitor the heart, the doctor will take some readings.

  2. Next, the person will stand on the treadmill.

  3. As the treadmill starts to move, the person will walk slowly.

  4. The treadmill speed will gradually increase.

  5. The treadmill may go into an uphill, or incline position.

  6. After sometime, the treadmill will stop, and the person will sit down and rest for 3 minutes.

The person will exercise for around 6-10 minutes, but they can ask to stop at any time if they feel unwell. If the person experiences any of the following, the doctor might stop the test:

  • dizziness

  • missed heartbeats

  • chest pain

  • shortness of breath 

  • severe fatigue

Doctor may also stop the test if the electrocardiogram device detects any unusual changes. Qualified medical professionals are always on hand in case of adverse effects.

Stress test without exercise

If a person is unable to exercise, the doctor may use a certain medication to trigger the same process. In this case, they will attach electrodes to the chest and deliver the medication into the person’s arm through an IV line. The medication will increase the heart rate. It may cause effects similar to those that occur during exercise, such as flushing or shortness of breath.