A stress test 一 sometimes called a cardiac stress test 一 measures how well blood flows through your heart under external stress. Because certain heart issues may not be visible when you’re resting, the added stress (either through exercise or pharmacological stimulation) can help reveal issues by raising your heart rate and forcing your heart to pump harder.
A stress test is an important cardiological test that helps:
- Shape your treatment plan,
- Identify potential issues
- Confirm diagnoses such as coronary heart disease
- Monitor progress from any current treatments
- Assess your heart health
There’s no doubt stress tests are important, but how do you prepare for one? That’s just the question that Dr. Henock Saint-Jaques and our team here at Harlem Cardiology answer below.
Preparing for your stress test
Before you arrive for your stress test, it’s important to know which type of stress test you will have: an exercise stress test or a nuclear stress test. Both tests assess the effect of external stress on your heart. The difference is how the stress is applied. During an exercise stress test, you will walk on a treadmill to increase your heart rate, but if you have a nuclear stress test, medication will simulate the effects of exercise on your heart.
For an exercise stress test, you can prepare by dressing in comfortable clothes (gym clothes will work great) and walking shoes. For a nuclear stress test, we may provide specific instructions for stopping eating, drinking, or taking specific medications.
Regardless of which type of stress test you have:
- Avoid caffeine the day before your test
- Bring an inhaler (if you have one)
If you have any questions regarding your preparation instructions, don’t hesitate to ask our team!
What to expect during your stress test
Before the actual test starts, our team prepares you for the exercise test as well as the EKG. EKGs are an important part of your stress test because they record the electrical signal data from the exercise test. We place 12 sticky patches on your chest and abdomen. Each patch contains wires (leads) that help send the electrical data from your heart and transmit the information to the machine, where it is printed out as a graph. An EKG doesn’t hurt.
In addition to preparing you for the EKG, we also:
- Listen to your heart and lungs
- Place a blood pressure cuff on your arm
- Note your baseline heart rate and blood pressure
Once everything is in place, it’s time to start your stress test. You start walking slowly on a treadmill, and at regular intervals, we increase the intensity of your exercise by increasing the treadmill speed incrementally. This pattern continues until you reach your target heart rate, you become out of breath, or you develop other symptoms, such as leg or chest pain. Dr. Saint-Jacques monitors you throughout the test and stops the test if there are any significant changes in your blood pressure or EKG readings.
As long as no worrisome symptoms develop, you can continue walking slowly and do a cool down on the treadmill. The exercise portion may only take about 15 minutes.
What to expect if you have a nuclear stress test
In some cases, the exercise stress test may not be right for you. In these cases, Dr. Saint-Jacque may recommend a nuclear stress test. This type of stress test uses medication to highlight the effects of stress on your heart.
This process requires the use of a radioactive dye (a tracer). The radioactive tracer is administered through an IV. Once it flows through your blood vessels, our imaging technology can “trace it” and better detect any areas of damage or substandard blood flow in your heart.
If you need a stress echocardiography, our team uses ultrasound technology to record the functionality of your heart. After the test, you may be asked to lie down while we monitor your heart rate to ensure it returns to normal.
The tracer leaves your body through your urine, so be sure to drink plenty of water to help flush it out.
What happens after a stress test
After your stress test, Dr. Saint-Jacque continues to monitor you, but what specifically happens after your test depends on the results of your stress test. If your test reveals that your current treatments are working, you may not need any additional tests or treatment. However, if your test confirms poor blood flow, you may need to undergo treatment to address specific issues.
Questions about your upcoming stress test? Don’t hesitate to call our Madison Avenue office at 646-381-2181. To book your next appointment, visit our website.