Cardiac Stress Test
What you should know
A cardiac stress test helps your caregiver see how well your heart works when it is under stress. It is also called an exercise test or a medicine stress test. A cardiac stress test is usually done to check for blocked arteries in your heart.
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A cardiac stress test may cause you to feel dizzy, lightheaded, and weak. You may feel your heart throb or race. You may have chest pain or a heart attack.
The week before your test:
- Ask caregivers about instructions for eating and drinking on the day of your test. Your caregiver may tell you not to eat, drink, or smoke 2 to 4 hours before the test. If an imaging test is also done, you may need to avoid these things for at least 8 hours.
- Tell your caregiver about any medicines you take, including vitamins and supplements. He may ask you to stop taking these before your test. Do not stop taking any medicines unless your caregiver says it is okay.
- You or a close family member will be asked to sign a legal document called a consent form. It gives caregivers permission to do the test. It also explains the problems that may happen and your choices. Make sure all your questions are answered before you sign this form.
The day of your test:
- Ask your caregiver before you take any medicine on the day of your test. This includes insulin, diabetic pills, high blood pressure pills, or heart pills. Bring a list of all the medicines you take, or your pill bottles, with you to the place you are having the test.
- Do not wear tight-fitting clothes on the day of your test. Wear walking shoes or sneakers so that you are comfortable during the test.
What will happen:
- Electrodes (sticky patches) will be put on your chest. Hair may need to be removed to help the patches stick to your skin. The electrodes will be attached to wires that send the electrical activity of your heart to an EKG monitor. A wrap or belt may be placed around your waist to hold the cables in place. You will start exercising on a stationary bike or treadmill and increase the exercise to your highest level. If you are not able to exercise, you may be given an injection of medicine to make your heart work harder.
- The test will usually last about 8 to 12 minutes. It will be stopped early if you have chest pain or are short of breath, weak, tired, or dizzy. Your heart will be monitored with the EKG during the test. Your caregiver will check your breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate during the test. You may be asked to breathe into a tube. Your caregiver will tell you when to stop exercising. After the exercise, you will be asked to sit or lie down. Your breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate will be taken again during the next several minutes.
- An imaging study is sometimes done during the stress test. An echocardiogram uses sound waves to show your heart's response to the stress. Myocardial perfusion imaging uses a radioactive liquid that is injected. A camera records the flow of the liquid through your heart to see how the stress affects it. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.
After your test:
When your caregiver sees that you are okay, you may be allowed to go home. If you are staying in the hospital after the test, you will be taken to your room.
Contact a caregiver if
- You have a fever.
- You have questions or concerns about your test or medicines.
Seek Care Immediately ifCall 911 or an ambulance if you have any signs of a heart attack:
- Discomfort in the center of your chest that feels like squeezing, pressure, fullness, or pain and that lasts for more than a few minutes or keeps returning
- Discomfort or pain in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or one or both of your arms
- Feeling sick to your stomach
- Trouble breathing
- A sudden cold sweat, particularly in combination with chest discomfort or trouble breathing
- Feeling very lightheaded or dizzy, particularly in combination with chest discomfort or trouble breathing
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.