Heart disease is responsible for 1 out of every 4 deaths in the U.S., making it the deadliest disease for Americans. An accurate and timely diagnosis is vital to create an effective treatment plan to save lives. Often, a stress test is ordered—you may even have a friend or family member who has had one.
Learning more about your stress test will help you take a more active role in your health care because there are several facts about your stress test you can’t afford to ignore.
What is a stress test and why is it done?
A stress test monitors your heart while running or walking on a treadmill or using a stationary bike. It’s used to help your doctor see if you have coronary artery disease or an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).
This crucial test is used because an exercise stress test causes your heart to pump harder, exposing problems that may not be noticeable when you’re at rest.
There are different types of stress tests. You may hear them referred to as:
- Exercise test or exercise stress echo
- PET stress tests
- Nuclear stress test
- Stress EKG
- Pharmacological stress test
- Sestamibi stress test
- Stress EKG
- Treadmill test
Learning more about your stress test will help you become an active partner in your care and enable you to work with your cardiologist to develop a successful treatment plan. Following are some facts about your stress test that may surprise you.
Even if your stress test results are normal, you may need additional tests
This isn’t always the case, but if you’re still having symptoms such as chest pain, your doctor may schedule other evaluations even if your stress test was normal. Your physician will also take into account whether or not you have risk factors for heart disease.
Different types of stress tests use different methods
Doctors use various methods for examining your heart and circulation during these procedures.
For example, a nuclear stress test uses an IV to inject dye into your blood stream. Images are taken of your heart at rest and after stimulation by medication. This enables the doctor to compare the images, seeing if there’s adequate blood flow.
For comparison, an echocardiogram uses ultrasonic waves instead of dye to monitor blood circulation through your heart.
While tests such as the nuclear stress test or echocardiogram may be more accurate and diagnostic for some people, they are often more expensive.
Not sure which stress test is appropriate? Our doctors will be able to give you information on which test would be right for you. At Raleigh Medical Group, we perform cardiac stress tests and echocardiography services. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you have.
Stress tests are not 100 percent accurate
No medical test is 100 percent accurate. A stress test is just one piece of an overall picture.
Your physician will take into account several factors for your diagnosis, such as your symptoms, your family history and your risk factors when he or she prescribes a course of treatment.
No diagnosis is made in a “vacuum.” This is why it is so important to communicate with your doctor about any symptoms you are experiencing. This will provide your physician with valuable information he or she can use to help you.
Stress tests aren’t only used to diagnose heart problems
Even if you’ve already been diagnosed with heart disease, a stress test still provides your physician with valuable insights. It can help your doctor determine when it would be best to schedule surgery for a valve replacement or even whether or not a heart transplant is needed.
There are very specific instructions you should follow before your stress test
Coffee, tea, cola and other caffeine-loaded drinks should be avoided for 24 hours before the test. Caffeine—even the amount in chocolate – can stimulate your heart and possibly interfere with results. Remember that even decaffeinated products do contain trace amounts of caffeine.
Follow your doctor’s instructions to the letter, and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand.
Do I need a stress test?
Only your physician can give you an accurate answer, but if you have any of the following risk factors for heart disease, you should speak with one of our internal medicine physicians who can help you.
You are at a greater risk of heart disease if:
- You’re overweight or obese
- You have high cholesterol
- You’re a smoker
- You have high triglycerides (the amount of fat in the blood)
- You live a sedentary lifestyle
At Raleigh Medical Group, we work extensively with patients who have heart disease. We work with them in every aspect of their treatment, providing them with vital answers about diet, exercise, procedures, tests and the best course of treatment.