Cardiac Stress Test
What is a cardiac stress test?
A cardiac stress test is also called an exercise test or a treadmill test. This test helps your caregiver see how well your heart works during exercise.
Why may I need a cardiac stress test?
A cardiac stress test is usually done to check for blockages in the arteries of the heart. The test can help caregivers create an exercise plan for you. Caregivers may also use a cardiac stress test to do any of the following:
- Check your risk for a heart attack
- Find the cause of heart-related symptoms, such as chest pain or shortness of breath
- Check for heart disease or arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats)
- Test how your heart works during exercise after a heart attack or heart surgery
How is a cardiac stress test done?
You will be asked to exercise on a stationary bicycle or treadmill. An electrocardiogram (ECG) will be done several times while you exercise. Your caregiver will check your breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate during the test.
- 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 carry the electrical activity of your heart to the electrocardiogram (ECG) monitor. A wrap or belt may be placed around your waist to hold the cables in place. An ECG will then be recorded on paper. This is known as the resting ECG. Additional recordings will be made during and after exercise. You will be asked to start mild exercise on the stationary bike or treadmill. The exercise will get harder as the test progresses.
- During stress testing, the heart rhythm will be shown on a heart monitor. This allows your caregiver to watch for changes and arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). When you reach your highest exercise level, your caregiver will ask you to slow your exercise. The test will continue until you reach a target heart rate. It may be stopped early if you have chest pain or are short of breath, weak, tired, or dizzy. Your caregiver will tell you when to stop exercising. After the exercise, you will be asked to get off the exercise machine and lie down. Your vital signs and heart readings will be taken again during the next several minutes.
What are the risks of a cardiac stress test?
A cardiac stress test may cause you to feel dizzy, lightheaded, and weak. You may feel your heart throbbing or have extra heartbeats. You may have chest pain or a heart attack.
When should I contact my caregiver?
Contact your caregiver if:
- You feel dizzy or lightheaded.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
When should I seek immediate care?
Call 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, 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
- Having 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
You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.
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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.
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