There are countless tests that cardiologists use to assess the heart health of a patient. But there is only one we can think of that has been so frequently portrayed in the media. You can most likely conjure up an image of a person jogging on a treadmill, with a mask over their face and tubes reaching out from their body to the machines beside them. That image in your mind is that of a stress test.
The stress test is precisely what it sounds like. It’s a test during which doctors put your heart under stress to see how your heart functions in all situations. Your doctor checks your blood pressure and listens to your heart each time you visit the office, but that doesn’t explain what’s happening to your heart when you’re climbing stairs or exercising.
There are two types of stress tests, and the first is the exercise stress test which we’ve referred to above. Second is the nuclear stress test which is used on patients for whom the exercise stress test is unsafe. During an exercise stress test, you’ll be asked to walk or jog on a treadmill while the doctor monitors your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing.
Patients who are unable to perform an exercise stress test will undergo a nuclear stress test. During this test, medication is administered to the patient to speed their heart and mimic exercise chemically. They’re also given a radioactive substance intravenously so that doctors can collect images of the heart in rest and in action. These two versions of the stress test are powerful tools that cardiologists use to diagnose various heart conditions.
Coronary Artery Disease
Due to many Americans’ highly processed diets and inactive lives, Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) has become an enormous problem. Patients with this condition experience a buildup of sticky plaque inside their arteries that prevents blood from flowing freely. Over time this plaque builds up like a damn inside the arteries until eventually blood cannot flow, and a heart attack occurs. During a stress test, your doctor would be able to tell your risk of CAD based on how you performed. If you have CAD, it’s relatively easy to know by this test. However, if you pass the test, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the clear, but that you may need to undergo additional testing to rule out a CAD diagnosis.
Heart Rhythm Problems
Arrhythmias are a category of heart disease where the electrical system in the heart is not doing its job correctly. It can occur due to age, damage or disease, or at birth. Often arrhythmias are problematic to diagnose when the patient is calm and at rest. Your cardiologist may have a suspicion of what you’re dealing with but need the extra proof provided by the stress test. In the case of patients with heart rhythm problems, the doctor is focused on tracking the rhythm over time to look for irregularities. Some types of arrhythmia are dangerous to your health, and undergoing a stress test can help you maintain your health.
Heart failure is a broad category of disease that refers to patients whose hearts are not working entirely as they should be. When a patient is in heart failure, their heart muscles cannot pump enough blood to send oxygenated blood through their whole body. Symptoms are fatigue and shortness of breath. These patients’ hearts are compensating for their disease by getting bigger and pumping faster. During a stress test, your cardiologist will be looking for signs that your heart is overworking and underperforming. A stress test will not likely be the only diagnostic tool your cardiologist uses, but it’s an excellent place to start and can provide a baseline for future diagnoses.
When it comes to stress tests, there is nothing to stress about. It’s a simple test that provides a lot of valuable information. One of the main fears of cardiac patients is that they will be forced to run a significant distance or perform a physical feat. Remember that the goal of a stress test is to raise your heart rate. For some younger, more active patients, that may require a good deal of exercise. Your cardiologist will help to tailor the stress test to your physical condition.
Heart health is central to overall health, and we urge our patients and future patients to take the necessary steps to prevent heart damage. We can’t stop ourselves from aging, but we can be vigilant about self-monitoring and maintaining an active and heart-healthy lifestyle. If you or someone you love has concerns about their heart health, please reach out to our office as soon as possible. Our team of expert physicians is here to help you.