Exercise Stress TestingAs the body works harder during physical activity, its tissues require more oxygen, so the heart must pump blood faster. Exercise stress testing can help a physician determine whether blood flow is reduced in the coronary arteries that supply the heart.
A physician may order exercise stress testing to:
- Determine a patient’s risk of coronary artery disease and heart attack
- Investigate the cause of symptoms that may be heart-related, such as chest pain, shortness of breath and lightheadedness
- Evaluate the effectiveness of a patient’s treatment plan for heart disease
- Help a patient develop a safe and effective exercise program
- Check a patient’s heart function before surgery
To prepare a patient for an exercise stress test, a technician will place several adhesive patches (electrodes) on the patient’s chest, legs and arms. The electrodes will be connected by wires to a computer, which will record the electrical activity of the patient’s heart throughout the test. Additionally, the technician will place a blood pressure cuff on the patient’s upper arm so that his or her blood pressure can be continually monitored.
During the exercise portion of the test, the patient may walk on a treadmill or pedal a stationary bike, starting slowly and gradually increasing the intensity of the workout. The patient will continue exercising until his or her heart rate reaches a targeted level. The test will immediately be concluded if the patient feels too uncomfortable to continue or experiences:
- Moderate to severe chest pain
- Severe shortness of breath
- Abnormally high or low blood pressure
- An abnormal heart rhythm
After the patient stops exercising, he or she may be asked to stand still for several seconds and then lie down for a short time with the monitors in place. The physician will monitor the patient as his or her heart rate and breathing return to normal.
What to Expect
Exercise stress testing involves minimal risk. The physical exertion required is comparable to that of walking fast or jogging uphill, and a medical professional is present at all times. Depending on the results, a physician may suggest further diagnostic testing, such as a nuclear stress test or cardiac catheterization.
Exercise stress testing is a good indicator of the health of the heart and coronary arteries. Tampa General Hospital’s Heart & Vascular Institute is pleased to offer this and other forms of diagnostic testing for heart conditions.