A stress test, also called an exercise stress test, shows how your heart works during physical activity. Because exercise makes your heart pump harder and faster, an exercise stress test can reveal problems with blood flow within your heart.
A stress test usually involves walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike while your heart rhythm, blood pressure and breathing are monitored. Or you’ll receive a drug that mimics the effects of exercise.
Your doctor may recommend a stress test if you have signs or symptoms of coronary artery disease or an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia).
A stress test can help:
- Guide treatment decisions
- Determine how well heart treatment is working
- Diagnose the severity of an existing heart condition
Why it’s done
Your doctor may recommend a stress test to:
- Diagnose coronary artery disease. Your coronary arteries are the major blood vessels that supply your heart with blood, oxygen and nutrients. Coronary artery disease develops when these arteries become damaged or diseased — usually due to a buildup of deposits containing cholesterol and other substances (plaques).
- Diagnose heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias). Heart arrhythmias occur when the electrical signals that coordinate your heartbeat don’t work properly. An arrhythmia can cause your heart to beat too fast, too slowly or irregularly.
- Guide treatment of heart disorders. If you’ve already been diagnosed with a heart condition, an exercise stress test can help your doctor determine if your current treatment is working. The test results also help your doctor decide on the best treatment for you.
- Check your heart before surgery. Your doctor may use a stress test to determine when you can safely have surgery, such as valve replacement or a heart transplant.
If an exercise stress test doesn’t pinpoint the cause of your signs and symptoms, your doctor may recommend a stress test with imaging, such as a nuclear stress test or stress test with an echocardiogram.
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