What Is a Stress Test?

A stress test is another test I do on a regular basis. I actually don’t do the test, as that’s the job of a nurse or doctor.

What I do is the job of the technician who preps you and gets you ready for the test. I also monitor your blood pressure during the test. I know some people in this community may have these from time to time. So, what is a stress test? How might this test benefit you? Here’s what to know.

What is a stress test?

As the name implies, a stress test is a test that stresses your heart. The goal is to determine how your heart behaves under stress. The stress here basically means physical activity, such as running or walking fast.1-4

When you are running, you are taxing all the muscles of your body. These muscles will require extra nutrients to continue operating. Of course, one of the main nutrients needed is oxygen. So, your heart will pump faster and harder. The goal here is to pump extra oxygen to all the tissues of your body. Is your heart up to the task? The goal of the test is to find out.1-4

Potential blockages and further testing

Is your heart getting adequate blood flow when you are exerting yourself? If not, this may be due to a blockage in the coronary arteries leading to your heart. This can be seen as a change in your EKG during this test. So, the test can determine if you are at risk for heart disease.

Most of the stress tests I have witnessed have come back normal. However, there have been a few where the attending physician found EKG changes. Where I work, these patients are then referred to a cardiac specialist for further testing. In some institutions, the cardiac specialist may be the one ordering the test.

Your doctor may order this test if you are experiencing chest pain or shortness of breath. It may be ordered to monitor how well your current cardiac treatment is working or because you have an arrhythmia. It can also be useful for helping your doctor determine what types of activities are best for you.

What are the two types of stress tests?

There are two types of stress tests:

  1. Treadmill Stress Test. This is the preferred test by many doctors. It involves you getting on a treadmill. You will start by walking. The speed of the treadmill will gradually be increased. The ramp will be gradually be increased. The goal is to have you walk until your maximum heart rate is reached. You must then hold this heart rate for one minute. Once this point is reached the treadmill will gradually slow down. This test lasts about 15 minutes. While we use a treadmill where I work, I’m told that some institutions may use a stationary bike.
  2. Lexiscan Stress Test. This test is ordered if you are unable to run on a treadmill. During the test, you will lie on a hospital bed. A medicine called Lexiscan will be injected into your vein through an IV. This medicine mimics the effects of running on a treadmill. It can make you feel like you are running. It can feel a bit awkward. However, the effects wear off quickly. This test lasts about five minutes.
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During both these tests, a nurse or doctor will monitor your EKG rhythm. A technician will also monitor your blood pressure. You will also be frequently asked how you are doing. You will be closely monitored during a stress test. In total, the time from set-up to discharge is usually about an hour.

What is the preparation like?

There are some medicines you should stop taking before the test. Your doctor will let you know if this is the case for you. Other than that, it is important that you do not drink caffeine 12 hours prior to the test. The reason here is that caffeine is the antidote to the medicine that might be used during the test. You should also refrain from eating or drinking for four hours prior to the test.

If you are having a Lexiscan Stress it probably doesn’t matter how you dress. But, if you are having a treadmill test, you should wear clothing you’d wear when working out. This includes sweatpants or shorts and includes tennis shoes.2

What happens when I arrive?

When you arrive, a technician will have you lie on a bed. This person will clean the oil off of 12 areas of your chest. This is necessary so stickers adhere to your skin during the test. Twelve EKG leads are attached to these stickers, allowing the technician to see your EKG on a monitor. The technician will then take your blood pressure. Your blood pressure may be taken a few times during the test.

If you are doing a Lexiscan Test, you are now ready to go. If you are doing a treadmill test, you may be asked to sit up. At this time a belt may be fastened around your waist to hold the EKG leads. Once this is done you are ready to go.

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