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Cardiac Stress Test


What is a cardiac stress test?

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.

Why do I need a cardiac stress test?

  • To check for blocked arteries in your heart
  • To find the cause of symptoms related to your heart, such as chest pain or shortness of breath
  • To check for heart disease or arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats)
  • To test how your heart works during exercise after a heart attack or heart surgery

How is a cardiac stress test done?

  • 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.

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 throb or race. 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 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

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.

© 2015 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.