There are two main ways that the examiner can stress your heart during this test. Most commonly used is exercise. During an exercise stress test, the patient will walk on a treadmill slowly and then increase the speed as well as the incline to imitate the sensation of walking up a hill. As the test becomes more strenuous, the patient needs more oxygen thus increasing the amount of blood pumping to the heart.
For patients who are unable to exercise due to disability or other health issues, doctors are able to stress their hearts chemically. The chemical injections most often used to stress the heart are Dobutamine, Persantine or Adenosine.
Testing The Heart
Once the heart has been stressed, the technician will use one of three different tests to investigate possible blockages or other issues which may cause the patient’s symptoms.
The Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) is a test which, as the name states, shows the electrical signals in your heart. During this simple test, electrodes are attached to your chest and the results are shown as lines on a chart across the technician’s screen. Even if you’re not aware, you’ve likely seen images of this assessment on movies and television shows.
Another test used is the Echocardiogram (Echo). As you might guess from its name, the Echo uses sound instead of electrical currents to determine the efficiency of blood flowing to your heart. This is the same technology used in an ultrasound.
Finally, the last test used to monitor your heart during a stress test is the Nuclear Scan. During this test, the patient is injected with a radioactive dye that creates an image of the inside of the heart. Technetium (often called Cardiolite) and Thallium are the radioactive isotopes most commonly used for this test.
These two options for stressing the heart can be combined in several different ways with the three options for testing the heart. So, when your cardiologist tells you that you need a stress test it can be difficult to discern what that actually means. If you have questions, be sure to clarify. Also, some cardiologists prefer to use the stress test as a preventative measure, so one may be ordered for you even if you haven’t suffered any heart-related symptoms.
Either way, a Stress Test is an excellent way for your cardiologist to get a good idea of what is happening in your body. If you have questions about this test, or if you need to find a cardiologist to work with, contact us today.