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What to Expect During and After a Stress Test

What to Expect During and After a Stress Test

Cardiac symptoms, such as chest pain or shortness of breath, are worrying, especially if you don’t know what’s causing them. Often, the first tool in the diagnostic arsenal is a stress test that determines how effectively your heart functions under stress. The results reveal possible underlying cause(s) of those symptoms, and the cause helps dictate the proper treatment.

Stress tests can also be used to evaluate the effectiveness of any cardiac treatment you’re undergoing or to determine when it’s safe for you to return to exercise following a heart attack.

At Heart Vascular & Leg Center, our expert team of board-certified vascular specialists routinely conducts stress tests at our Bakersfield, California, office. Many of our patients haven’t undergone a stress test before and aren’t sure what to expect. Keep reading to learn the specifics.

Why a stress test?

Unlike many tests that passively collect data, a stress test is dynamic. It pushes your heart to work harder than usual, so it needs to pump more blood to keep up with the activity. The test tells us how well your heart handles its dynamic workload. If it can’t keep up, we see the resulting lack of blood supply through the arteries that lead to the heart. The results also help us determine the right kind and level of physical activity for you.

We order stress tests to gather data about:

If you develop chest pain or shortness of breath during the test, you may have carotid artery disease (CAD), a narrowing of or blockage in the brain's arteries. In these cases, we order additional tests, like a carotid ultrasound, to get more information.

The types of stress tests and what to expect

There are three primary types of stress tests.

1. Exercise stress test

Most of the time, the order will be for an exercise stress test, sometimes called a treadmill stress test or stress EKG. We place electrodes on specific spots on your body before you start so we can monitor your heart’s electrical activity while you’re exercising. Exercise increases the demand on your heart and increases its rate. The results tell us if it can keep up with the increased demand.

You spend 15-20 minutes walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike. You start slowly, then increase the speed until you reach a predetermined peak heart rate or until you develop symptoms like shortness of breath and must stop.\

You don’t need to do anything special to prepare for this test, but you should wear loose-fitting clothing that’s comfortable to exercise in.

2. Medication stress test

If you have an underlying medical condition that prevents you from exercising, we may use a medication to increase your heart rate instead of a treadmill or bike. You don’t even have to wear loose clothing for this type since you won’t be exercising.

3. Nuclear/PET stress test

Also referred to as a radionuclide scan, the nuclear test uses a special tracer dye injected into your bloodstream that details your heart’s structure and blood flow on a positive emission tomography (PET) scan you undergo following a treadmill/bike test. You have a second PET scan when your heart is at rest so we can compare the test’s results to a baseline.

PET scans are noninvasive and not at all painful.

Once we have the test results, we discuss them with you and indicate what steps, if any, you need to take to remedy the underlying condition.

If you’re experiencing any troubling symptoms like shortness of breath or chest pain, you need to come into Heart Vascular & Leg Center for an evaluation, which may include a stress test. To get started, call our office at 661-443-5524 to schedule a consultation, or book online today.

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