Pharmacologic Stress Testing

What is pharmacologic stress testing?

Pharmacologic stress testing uses medicine to make the heart work just as it does when you exercise. This test helps your caregiver find heart problems and plan treatment.

Why may I need a pharmacologic stress test?

You may need a pharmacologic stress test if you have heart-related symptoms but cannot exercise. Caregivers may also use a pharmacologic stress test to do any of the following:

  • Look for the cause of symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and weakness

  • Monitor or diagnose a heart condition, such as heart disease or arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats)

  • Check your risk for a heart attack

  • Decide if you can have surgery for another health condition

What types of medicine are used to do pharmacologic stress testing?

  • Medicine that works on the heart muscles: These increase your heart rate and the strength of contractions (pumping) of your heart muscles. This causes an increase in the blood flow.

  • Medicine that affects the blood vessels of the heart: These cause your arteries to dilate (widen) so that there will be more blood flow.

How is pharmacologic stress testing done?

Pharmacologic stress testing can be done in a clinic, a caregiver's office, or in a hospital.

  • An IV line is placed in a vein of your arm.

  • Electrodes (sticky patches) are stuck on your chest. Hair may need to be removed to help the electrodes stick to your skin. The electrodes will be attached to wires that send the electrical activity of your heart to the electrocardiogram (ECG) monitor.

  • A baseline ECG will be done while you are resting.

  • Your caregiver will decide on the type of medicine to be used for your test. The medicine is given slowly by a caregiver through the IV, or a pump may be used.

  • Several ECGs will be recorded during and after the medicine is given to you.

  • You may need to do mild exercise on a treadmill after the medicine is given. An ECG may be done to compare with the ECG done while you were resting.

What may prevent me from having a pharmacological stress test?

  • You are having an asthma attack.

  • You used medicine that contains dipyridamole within the last 24 hours. Dipyridamole is a blood thinner. Ask your caregiver for more information about medicines that may contain dipyridamole.

  • You have had food or drinks that contain caffeine within the past 12 hours.

  • You have a heart rate of 40 beats per minute or less.

  • You have a low blood pressure reading.

  • You have uncontrolled high blood pressure.

What are the risks of a pharmacological stress test?

A pharmacologic stress test may cause you to feel dizzy, lightheaded, or weak. You may have throbbing or extra heartbeats, 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?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have sudden trouble breathing.

  • You have chest pain even after you take your medicine.

Care Agreement

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. 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.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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