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What to Expect During a Stress Test

A stress test, a treadmill test, and an exercise stress test are the same thing, a way to see how well your heart works when you exercise. In most instances, you actually do exercise during the test, but we may give you a drug that makes your body behave as if you’re exercising. 

The expert providers at Heart & Vascular Institute recommend a stress test when they suspect you have coronary artery disease or an irregular heart rhythm. We know that any medical test can be nerve-wracking, so this post is offered to help ease your worries! 

Why you might need a stress test

If your doctor suspects you have coronary artery disease, getting a diagnosis and treatment is critically important. A stress test can help your doctor understand what’s happening with your heart. 

When you have coronary artery disease, the blood doesn’t flow to your heart properly. Your arteries may be stiff and narrowed due to disease, or they may be damaged. Most often, the problem is a buildup of a substance called plaque on the inside of your arteries. 

Another common reason doctors prescribe a stress test is if there’s a problem with the rhythm of your heart, which is called an arrhythmia

Arrhythmias happen when the electrical impulses that tell the different parts of your heart to contract and relax don’t function normally. Your heart may beat too fast, too slowly, or irregularly. 

Finally, stress tests can sometimes help your doctor understand whether a particular treatment is working as well as it should. It may also help them establish your treatment plan by providing a baseline for how your heart functions when you exercise. 

What happens during a stress test?

There are a few ways you can take a stress test. Most of the time, you walk on a treadmill while we monitor your heart. The treadmill may have an incline so that the test is more difficult, or it may change speeds to make you walk faster. 

You’re connected to an electrocardiogram (EKG) machine during the test. An EKG measures the electrical activity in your heart. You may also be asked to breathe into a tube at various points to test the strength of your lungs. 

If you experience chest pain or other other negative effects, we stop the test immediately, or you can ask us to stop. The length of the test varies, depending on your reactions and what your doctor is looking for. 

Sometimes we use an exercise bike instead of a treadmill, but otherwise it works the same. More rarely, we have you lie on a bed and give you a drug that makes your body behave as if you’re exercising. This is for people who are unable to exercise.

Before and after your stress test

You don’t need to do anything special to prepare for a stress test. We consult with you ahead of time so your doctor and test administrator are aware of any conditions or symptoms you have. 

You should wear clothes comfortable for exercise on the day of the test, and appropriate shoes. Your doctor lets you know if you need to avoid eating or drinking or if you should refrain from taking your medications before your test. 

After your stress test, we discuss the results with you and any treatments that may be necessary. We might also recommend further testing. 

If you need a stress test, or you’ve had any worrisome cardiovascular symptoms, call Heart & Vascular Institute at one of our three convenient locations, in Dearborn, Detroit, and Southfield, Michigan, or book your appointment online.

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