What is a stress test?
A stress test is a test that is done to see how well the heart responds to physical activity. It can help detect heart problems that may not be found when at rest. It is used most often to look for blockages in the arteries of the heart (coronary artery disease) but can also be used when diagnosing rhythm problems. It may also be helpful for establishing and how significant heart valve problems are.
How is a stress test performed?
There are two types of stress tests. One type is called a treadmill stress test. During that test, an individual walks on a treadmill to put their heart under stress. While the individual is on the treadmill, they are connected to an EKG machine.
A second type of stress test is called a pharmacologic or “chemical” stress test during which a patient is given a medication. Often, the patient is given regadenoson (Lexiscan®). This medication puts the heart under stress, mimicking the stress of exercise on a treadmill.
Sometimes the test is interpreted by an EKG alone. Other times, pictures are taken of the heart with an echocardiogram (ultrasound). Alternatively, a CT scan of the heart can be done by injecting a dye into the patient. This is commonly called a “nuclear stress test”.
Who should have a stress test?
Stress tests are commonly ordered for patients who report chest discomfort or difficulty breathing while walking.