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Cardiac Stress Test


What you need to know about a cardiac stress test:

A cardiac stress test checks if your heart muscle is getting enough blood during rest and stress. Your heart may be placed under stress with medicine or exercise.

How to prepare for a cardiac stress test:

Your healthcare provider will talk to you about how to prepare for your test. He may tell you not to eat or drink anything for 2 to 4 hours before the test. He will tell you what medicines to take or not take on the day of your test. Wear comfortable shoes and clothes that you can exercise in to your test. Bring an inhaler with you if you normally use one during exercise.

What will happen during a cardiac stress test:

  • A healthcare provider will place electrodes (sticky patches) on your chest. Hair may be removed to help the patches stick to your skin. Your healthcare provider will attach a wire to each patch. The wires are connected to an EKG monitor. The EKG will display how fast your heart is beating (heart rate) and the rhythm of your heartbeat. A wrap or belt may be placed around your waist to hold the electrodes and wires in place. If you are going to get medicine during your test, a healthcare provider will insert an IV.
  • A healthcare provider will monitor your heart rate and rhythm during the test. Your blood pressure will also be monitored.
    • During a cardiac stress test with exercise, you will be asked to walk on a treadmill or pedal on a stationary bicycle. Instead, you may lie down and pedal a bicycle. The speed, height, or resistance of the exercise machine may be increased over time. You will be asked to exercise for as long as you can. You may be asked to breathe into a tube. This tube will measure the gases you breathe out. It will also help your healthcare provider see how well you can breathe during exercise. Your healthcare provider will tell you to stop exercising if you have shortness of breath, chest pain, or leg pain.
    • During a cardiac stress test with medicine, your healthcare provider will inject medicine through your IV. The medicine will make your heart beat faster and work harder. The medicine may make you feel anxious, dizzy, nauseous, shaky, or short of breath. You may also have mild chest pain. These symptoms should stop when your healthcare provider stops giving you medicine. Tell your healthcare provider if you have severe chest pain or dizziness. Other medicine may be given to treat severe chest pain or dizziness.
    • After you exercise or get medicine , you will sit or lie down. Your breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate will be monitored for several minutes.

What will happen after a cardiac stress test:

Your IV will be removed if you had one. You can usually return to work and your normal activities right away.

Risks of a cardiac stress test:

Medicine or exercise may cause chest pain, an abnormal heartbeat, dizziness, or a heart attack. Medicine given to stress your heart may cause wheezing or shortness or breath.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You have any of the following signs of a heart attack:
    • Squeezing, pressure, or pain in your chest that lasts longer than 5 minutes or returns
    • Discomfort or pain in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or arm
    • Trouble breathing
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Lightheadedness or a sudden cold sweat, especially with chest pain or trouble breathing

Seek care immediately if:

  • You feel weak, dizzy, or faint.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have nausea or are vomiting.
  • Your skin is itchy, swollen, or you have a rash.
  • You have pain, redness, or swelling in the area where the medicine was injected.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Heart-healthy tips:

  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause heart and lung damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Create an exercise plan with your healthcare provider. Do not begin an exercise plan before you talk to your healthcare provider. Exercise helps to lower high cholesterol, blood sugar, and high blood pressure. It can also help you maintain a healthy weight.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, talk to your healthcare provider about how to lose weight. A weight loss of 10% can improve your heart health.
  • Eat heart-healthy foods. Include fresh fruits and vegetables in your meal plan. Choose low-fat foods, such as skim or 1% fat milk, low-fat cheese and yogurt, fish, chicken (without skin), and lean meats. Eat two 4-ounce servings of fish high in omega-3 fats each week, such as salmon, fresh tuna, and herring. Do not eat foods that are high in sodium, such as canned foods, potato chips, salty snacks, and cold cuts. Put less table salt on your food.
  • Limit or do not drink alcohol. Ask your healthcare provider if it is safe for you to drink alcohol and how much is safe to drink. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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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.