What Can You Expect From a Stress Test?

Stress tests are one of the most important tools for diagnosing the cause of symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath. Why? Because stress tests allow us to see how well your heart works when it must pump more blood than normal. Then that information gives us the ability to customize your treatment.

As stress test specialists, our team at Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute works closely with each patient, ensuring your safety during the test and talking with you about the results as soon as the test is finished.

There are several types of stress tests, a basic exercise stress test and a few variations. Here’s what you can expect during each one.

What you need to do before a stress test

Everyone should avoid caffeine the day before a stress test. We may ask you to stop eating, drinking, smoking, and taking some medications, especially if you’re scheduled for a nuclear stress test.

If you use an inhaler for asthma or other breathing problems, be sure to bring the inhaler and let us know you have one. Otherwise, you just need to wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes.

Exercise stress test preparation

When you arrive for your exercise stress test, we listen to your heart and lungs. Then we place a blood pressure cuff around your arm and put about 12 sticky patches on your chest and abdomen. In some cases, we may need to shave small areas of hair before applying the patches.

The patches hold electrodes with wires that run from your body to the electrocardiogram (EKG) machine. This allows us to continuously monitor your heartbeat while you exercise. We also check your blood pressure every few minutes during your test.

What to expect during an exercise stress test

We note your baseline blood pressure and EKG while you’re still resting, and then you start exercising on a treadmill. Everyone starts out slowly. Then at regular intervals, we increase the intensity of your exercise by boosting the treadmill’s speed.

Your test continues until you reach your maximum predicted heart rate, become too fatigued or out of breath to continue, or other symptoms develop.

You may need to stop if you develop chest or leg pain. In some cases, we stop the test if we see worrisome changes in your EKG or blood pressure.

If you don’t have dangerous symptoms, we finish your exercise stress test by reducing the speed so you can walk slowly and cool down for a few minutes.

For most people, the exercise part of a stress test only takes about 15 minutes. But you can expect to be in the office for an hour.

You’re never alone during a stress test

The most important thing to know about a stress test is that you are constantly supervised. Our highly trained medical staff is fully prepared to deal with any symptoms or problems that arise. You only need to tell us as soon as you feel short of breath or dizzy, or you have chest pain.

Stress test variations

One common variation is to take images of your heart before and after your stress test. And if you can’t tolerate exercise, we can still test your heart using medication.

These are two variations we frequently perform:

Nuclear stress test

During a nuclear stress test, we use Cardiolite®, a safe radioactive substance that highlights the blood flowing through your heart. After injecting Cardiolite, we use a special camera to capture images of your heart. We gather these images before and after your exercise stress test.

When we compare the images, they reveal the exact areas of your heart that aren’t working properly. We can see the parts of your heart that are damaged or don’t get enough blood. 

Pharmacologic nuclear stress test

If you can’t exercise, we perform a Lexiscan® nuclear stress test. This stress test combines nuclear imaging with Lexiscan, a medication that mimics the effect of exercise. Lexiscan temporarily boosts your heart rate by dilating coronary arteries.

Like with a nuclear stress test, we inject Cardiolite and get an image of your heart while you rest. Then we put the blood pressure cuff on your arm and connect you with the EKG machine, and take your baseline readings.

The next step however, isn’t exercise. Instead, you receive an intravenous infusion of Lexiscan. When the pharmaceutical part of your stress test is finished, we wait a short time and then inject Cardiolite and get more images so we can see how your heart responded to stress.

If you have any questions about stress tests or need to schedule an appointment, call our office in The Woodlands, Texas, or use the online booking system today.

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