If you have experienced chest pains or trouble breathing, you doctor may order you to have a heart stress test also known as a treadmill test or simply a stress test. Or, if you have a history of heart problems or hypertension and are starting a new exercise program or if you have diabetes, your doctor may want you to have a heart stress test before you begin your program.
The primary purpose of a heart stress test is to give the doctor an indication of how well your heart is working and to possible short circuit any serious heart related problems.
The usual heart stress test involves having the patient walk on a treadmill or pedal a stationary bike while a technician or nurse monitors the readings from the series of electrodes attached to the patient’s body. The tests are monitored with an electrocardiogram or EKG machine that can monitor your heart and detect changes to it while you are exercising. This is the most common piece of medical equipment in use for diagnosing potential heart problems.
By interpreting the readings the doctor can work towards evaluating the chess pain or determining if your heart rhythms are abnormal. The heart stress test will also help to examine whether there is an adequate flow of blood to your heart during increasing levels of activity and/or evaluate the effectiveness of your heart medications, if you are taking any. At the stress progresses, it forces your body and heart to work harder. Your body requires more oxygen – but can your heart deliver it? This is what the heart stress test is evaluating. The theory is that if your heart can’t handle it, and problems begin to show, then it’s much better that the problem happened here in a controlled environment rather than on a running track somewhere where you’d have limited access to medical help. Also, there are some heart symptoms that won’t show up during a regular doctor’s examination but will only show up during exercise.
Another great reason that your doctor may want for giving you a heart stress test is if you have recently had an operation that could possibly have had an effect on your heart. In this case, the stress test is given a means of reassuring everyone – the patient and doctors – that the operation or procedure was successful with no lingering effects.
Some question the reliability of cardiac stress tests. But the heart stress test is not meant to be conclusive. A stress test is simply a non-invasive screening tool. It cannot show conclusively one way or the other if your heart is functioning in tip-top shape. But it can alert experts to a possible problem somewhere in your system giving them the go-ahead to perform more detailed tests. These further test can help determine if you are experiencing a narrowing of your arteries, if your arteries show signs of blockage, or if your cardiovascular system is just fine.