You may never need a stress test, but if you do, chances are you won’t need to worry about how often to schedule future stress tests. While some people may need a follow-up stress test, this test is most often done to diagnose the cause of heart-related symptoms.
Laura Fernandes, MD, FACC, at Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute performs several essential diagnostic tests in the office, including electrocardiograms (EKGs), echocardiograms, and stress tests. Don’t hesitate to call the office if you have questions. In the meantime, here’s what you should know about why and when you may need to have a stress test.
What stress tests reveal
Stress testing is the only diagnostic procedure showing how your heart performs and how well blood flows through your heart when it’s forced to work harder than usual.
If you can’t tolerate exercise, we can run a stress test with an injection of medication that boosts your heart rate. However, most people take an exercise stress test by walking on a treadmill.
We take your EKG and measure your blood pressure while gradually increasing the intensity of your exercise. The test ends when you reach the targeted heart rate, symptoms appear, or your EKG or blood pressure show problems.
The results of your stress test reveal heart conditions like coronary artery disease (clogged heart arteries), abnormal heart rhythms like atrial fibrillation, heart valve disease, angina (chest pain), and heart failure.
When would I need stress testing?
The need for stress testing depends on your current heart health, your risk for developing heart disease, and if you have symptoms of possible heart problems.
Even though there are six reasons we typically recommend a stress test, that doesn’t mean you’ll need more than one stress test.
Reason 1: Evaluate heart-related symptoms
You may need an initial stress test if you’re having symptoms of a heart problem for the first time or if you had the symptoms before, but this is your first visit to a heart specialist.
This could be your second stress test if you had an earlier test to diagnose cardiovascular disease and now your symptoms are worse.
Signs of a heart problem include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Heart palpitations (racing, pounding, or fluttering heart)
- Getting out of breath when exercising
The results of your stress test help us decide if we need to do additional testing to confirm your diagnosis.
Reason 2: Determine optimal treatment
The same stress test used to assess your symptoms also provides crucial information for determining the best treatment for your heart.
Reason 3: Assess cardiac treatment
We may perform a stress test to evaluate the success of your heart disease treatment, whether you take medications or had a minimally invasive procedure.
Reason 4: Clear you to return to activities
If you have a heart condition or you had a heart attack, a stress test determines two things: if you can return to your activities and the amount of exercise you can tolerate. One stress test can serve double duty, evaluating your treatment and clearing the way for you to exercise again.
Reason 5: Support cardiac rehabilitation
A stress test at the start of rehabilitation (after a heart attack) allows the team to develop a personalized exercise program. When you finish cardiac rehabilitation, we may do a second test to assess your progress and develop a long-term exercise plan.
This is one of the few times when you’re likely to need two stress tests in a short time because rehabilitation typically lasts a few months.
Reason 6: Check heart function in high-risk patients
People with a high-risk for cardiovascular disease may need a stress test as part of their initial heart evaluation. The top risk factors include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Lack of exercise
- Unhealthy diet
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Family history of premature heart disease
Premature heart disease means developing coronary artery disease before age 55 for women and 45 for men.
Whether you need preventive screening for possible risk factors or you’re worried about symptoms, don’t wait to seek help from the compassionate team at Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute. Call our office or request an appointment online to learn more about our exceptional cardiovascular care.