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What Is a Heart Stress Test and When Do You Need One?

November 8, 2022
Nurse listens to smiling patient’s chest with stethoscope

The heart is one of the most important organs in the human body – and for good reason. Moving blood throughout the body keeps it alive and active. But when the heart is not working as it should, this can be a cause for concern for a patient and their physician. Fortunately, several tests are available to help medical professionals evaluate any issues that might come up, including heart stress tests. At Richmond University Medical Center in Staten Island, New York, patients can undergo this test if heart complications are suspected. Discover more about what this non-invasive testing procedure entails.

What Is a Heart Stress Test?

Sometimes referred to as an exercise test or treadmill test, this evaluation is used to help physicians learn what type of activity the heart can handle. As the body becomes active and works harder, more blood needs to be circulated. This assessment allows healthcare professionals to monitor the heart during more strenuous activity, which helps them learn more about the patient’s risk and figure out which activities they should and should not partake in.

A stress test for the heart involves placing sticky patches (electrodes) on the chest, arms, and legs. Wires from the electrodes are connected to a computer that records the heart’s electrical activity. The patient also receives a cuff on the arm and may be asked to breathe into a tube. The patient will then begin walking on a treadmill or stationary bike, usually starting slow and ramping up gradually. This helps medical professionals monitor important vital signs and look out for potential heart conditions.

Those who are unable to exercise will receive a drug that mimics the effects of exercise on the body.

What Does the Test Evaluate?

Like many medical tests, a heart stress test is often used for more than one purpose. During the assessment, an electrocardiography machine and an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) are used to monitor the following:

  • Heart rate
  • Breathing patterns
  • Blood pressure
  • Fatigue during activity and afterward

Once the test is over, the patient will be asked to sit or lie down in the office. This allows the heart and blood pressure to be checked, helping a physician see how the patient handles themselves following increased activity. After viewing the patient’s progress, the results of a heart stress test can be used to assist physicians in deciding treatment options, understanding the severity of an existing heart condition, or evaluating how a current treatment plan is working.

Why Are Heart Stress Tests Done?

These cardiovascular tests help healthcare professionals diagnose and monitor potential conditions that could affect the patient’s health and determine the right course of action when it comes to treatment. They may be used to help physicians tell if the patient has an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) or if chest pain and difficulty breathing are symptoms related to the heart. They allow medical professionals to determine the amount of activity the body can handle for those starting exercise programs or cardiac rehabilitation programs. The tests are also useful if the patient is currently undergoing treatments for heart disease since the tests help examine how effective the treatments are.

Stress tests may also be recommended by a physician to help diagnose certain heart problems. If coronary artery disease or arrhythmia is suspected, the tests will help rule them out. Heart stress tests can also be performed before a patient undergoes surgery, helping medical professionals tell whether or not the heart can take the operation. A physician may also look to have nuclear heart stress tests done if the initial assessment is inconclusive since these offer imaging to pinpoint the issue.

Take Control of Heart Health at Richmond University Medical Center

Patients who are concerned about heart health should not take any chances. The board-certified team at Richmond University Medical Center serves patients in in Staten Island, New York. The knowledgeable and caring cardiovascular physicians and support staff help patients feel informed and confident when it comes to a heart stress test or any other procedure. To learn more, contact us today.