Stress tests are one of the most important procedures for evaluating the health of your heart because they show how well your heart works when you exercise.
You may not look forward to walking on a treadmill, (and if you can’t exercise, we can use medications to increase your heart rate), but pushing your heart to work harder is the best way to quickly diagnose and treat potential heart conditions.
At Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute, Dr. Laura Fernandes carefully screens your health to be sure you can safely have a stress test and ensures you’re closely supervised throughout your procedure.
The results of your test reveal vital information, such as your exercise capacity and symptoms of heart disease.
Exercise forces your heart to work harder because it must pump more oxygen-rich blood to your body. As you walk on the treadmill, we increase the speed at regular intervals, forcing your heart to work progressively harder. We measure several essential functions throughout the test.
You wear electrocardiogram (EKG) sensors so we can continuously record your heart’s electrical activity while you exercise. You also wear a blood pressure cuff and a pulse monitor. Each time we increase your exercise level, we record your blood pressure, heart rate, and blood oxygen level.
How vital signs change during your stress test reveals how well your heart can tolerate exercise. Exercise capacity helps us evaluate the effectiveness of heart treatments and guides decisions about returning to your activities after a heart attack.
Signs of heart disease
Changes in your EKG, blood pressure, and heart rate can point to several possible heart conditions, including coronary artery disease, arrhythmias, and heart failure.
Coronary artery disease
Diagnosing coronary artery disease (CAD) is one of the primary reasons for a stress test. CAD, the most common heart disease, develops when the arteries carrying oxygen-rich blood to your heart are narrowed or blocked by a buildup of cholesterol and other substances. Signs of CAD typically appear on a stress test when a coronary artery is blocked by at least 70%.
Your heart can’t work properly if it doesn’t get enough blood. This problem causes clearly identifiable changes in your EKG.
Blood pressure changes during the test are another sign. If your blood pressure doesn’t increase (as expected when you exercise) or drops, it further verifies the presence of CAD.
Heart arrhythmias occur when there’s a problem in the heart’s electrical system. Your heart may beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly, depending on the underlying problem.
Some arrhythmias, like atrial fibrillation, are more likely to occur when you exercise. However, any type of arrhythmia can show up on your EKG during a stress test.
Heart failure refers to a heart that can’t pump blood effectively. Though heart failure often develops when the heart muscles are damaged or weak, faulty heart valves and long-lasting high blood pressure may also cause the problem.
A stress test shows how quickly exercise leads to shortness of breath, which is a sign of heart failure. However, your heart rate is a more important indicator.
We expect your heart rate to increase as your exercise becomes more challenging, and we look for it to return to normal within a specific time frame after you stop exercising. You may have heart failure if your heart rate doesn’t increase during the stress test and takes too long to return to normal afterward.
If you have signs of a heart condition, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or lightheadedness, don’t wait to schedule an evaluation at Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute. Call our office or use the online booking feature today.